There are a lot of really passionate language learners out there. Online, you can see polyglots metaphorically flexing their muscles: sharing their grueling daily study schedules, rattling off the numbers of languages they speak, aiming sky-high with their goals.
And that’s great! I admire their dedication. But that doesn’t work for everyone (here’s a brilliant post about the kind of polyglot pissing contests I find so off-putting). And for every person that says they became fluent in their target language(s) while working full-time, going to university (for something else), and taking care of a child, I promise you, there’s someone else feeling guilty because they aren’t able to do the same.
What’s my excuse? Health problems, both physical and mental, though the latter are the most difficult for me to deal with. I have depression; I have anxiety; I have been to some very dark places in my own mind.
This makes an extremely strenuous study schedule impossible for me. If you listen to some folks, the implication is that then I’m not serious enough about wanting to learn a language. I call bullshit. And I’m trying my best to shrug off the guilt and inferiority that preys on me when I see how much some other people can study in a day, in a week.
Because I’m not them. And language-learning isn’t a race. And feeling bad about my own speed and own ability does me no favors. It’s too easy to compare yourself to others and conclude that you’re a failure because you maybe can’t do what they do. Maybe shame-based study works for some people — beating yourself up, cutting out sleep or meals or time with loved ones when you feel like you haven’t done enough — but it doesn’t for me. For lots of people — with mental illness or not — this is super-detrimental.
Most of us are shamed enough daily anyway, ads everywhere telling us we’re not skinny enough or sexy enough or a good enough parent or whatever. I don’t need to feel bad because I don’t study as much as someone else, who may or may not have the constraints on time/health/money/etc. that I do, and who isn’t me. And as I’ve seen said a lot elsewhere, you can’t hate yourself into loving yourself.
So: the Compassionate Language Learner. Less self-castigation, more self-compassion. The name is, of course, also a wish and a hope and a dare to myself, to do the same.
Right. Now that I’ve explained the name, what am I going to write about here?
I want to talk about how my depression and anxiety affects language-learning: how sometimes languages help pull me up and sometimes they feel like an enormous soul-destroying unattainable quest.
I’ve found a few strategies for moving forwards even when the brainweasels make it so that I can’t leave my flat or, sometimes, even get up off the couch. I’d like to share how I’ve adapted common study techniques and productivity tips based on how many spoons I have. It’s very rare that I see this sort of thing discussed in language-learning spaces online — it leaves me feeling a little isolated, sometimes even maybe like I’m not a “real” language learner. So I’d love to talk about this with more people!
I’m grateful to Kerstin Hammes, of Fluent Language, for her post encouraging language-learners to start a blog. Instead of agonizing over whether to do this for weeks (as I have already), and then agonizing over how to make every word I write exactly the right one (as I also have done already!), I think it’d be better to write something, even if imperfect, than to not write at all.
I’m looking forward to seeing where this all takes me.