I get bogged down by others’ expectations of me, real or perceived. In fact, the perceived (i.e. false) expectations weigh more heavily on me because they’re what I actually believe. As I’ve written about previously, any sort of judgement of myself ties into my worth as a person. So the stakes are high: it’s not just a specific skill or ability that’s being judged, it’s my self worth.
I feel some of this judgement (actually from myself, perceived from others) about foreign languages. Languages are one of my main hobbies/passions/interests; it is a double-edged sword, because although I get a lot of enjoyment and excitement out of them, I also keenly feel so much discouragement brought on by judgement of my ability. I get overwhelmed mainly by what I “should” know.
There is a difference between my idea of what I “should” know regarding German and Spanish vs. French and Japanese. German I should know because I’ve been studying it for many, many years. Spanish I should know because I have been surrounded by it for many, many years and have had opportunities to learn from native speakers. So, I’m much harder on myself when I lack knowledge about these two languages. Contrast that with French and Japanese. I only took French for two years, and that was over a decade ago. I think I can still speak it reasonably well though, especially considering that I haven’t really studied it formally since. I have been taking Japanese classes for almost a year, and I can’t speak very much at all. But there’s no reason I should be able to speak better—I haven’t been surrounded by Japanese speakers or in any situation where it would be obviously useful.
So, according to the context, I speak French and Japanese relatively well. Relatively well for what’s expected, that is. But who exactly is even expecting it? Mainly me.
I used to go to German meetups frequently. It’s fun for me to practice languages and learn new things. But some of the habits of the other participants directly aggravated these insecurities for me, so I haven’t gone lately. The main habit I’m referring to is starting with small talk about how you learned the language and how long you’ve been studying it. AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAHAHAGHGHGHA.
I realize not everyone would hear my answer and think, “I expect her to speak flawlessly then!” But somehow that’s what my mind assumes. [There is a lot of divide for me between what I understand intellectually and what I feel emotionally. I often realize a perception is incorrect, but I still keenly feel it and it distresses me.]
I don’t ever want to say the actual number of years. I especially don’t want to say that I have a degree in it! So I have usually said something noncommittal like, “I don’t know exactly, because it has been off and on.”
I don’t like adding the context of how many years, and I think it’s actually a fairly useless question to ask! I get that it’s an applicable question for everyone at such a meetup, so people gravitate toward it like other small talk questions. But everyone’s context is so different! Someone could have studied German for five years, but it was every day and intensely, while someone else spoke for 30 minutes once a week in German for five years. That’s why I say it’s useless, because it’s not enough information. I just get the feeling (and I admit I could be completely wrong) that people often ask because they’re trying to figure out how long it takes to get to different proficiency levels. It’s not that they’re judging you to condemn you—it’s more like “They speak better than me, and since they have studied German for two years longer, I can expect to get to that level in two years.”
I would say that these meetups could be more enjoyable if there were no useless small talk questions, but I’d rather learn to be more resilient to those questions. I’d rather not care if someone analyzes my ability based on number of years I’ve studied it. I’d rather not care if they think that I am hopelessly incompetent.
I would say I’d rather just focus on myself and how I enjoy speaking languages, but the truth is that a lot (most?) of the judgement actually comes from myself. Whether the fellow participants are actually looking down on me or not, I think that they are, and that affects me. I think resiliency to judgment comes from lessening the judgment from myself first. I want to be more compassionate towards myself.