Izzy Ashton | an expat in Asia
It’s said that when you learn a new language, you gain a new soul. With that in mind, it makes sense that it’s not easy. To tell the truth, learning another language is just plain hard. It’s developing a fresh way to see, understand, and communicate with the world around us.
As I attempt to master an unfamiliar tongue, God grinds me into mortar, revealing things about myself and showing me ways I need to trust him more completely. In moments of confusion, frustration, and isolation, negative phrases tend to echo in my heart. Listening to these lies and believing them discourages me, making my journey even harder.
But I’m learning to recognize deceptions when they come, so I can counter them with truth instead. I like to think of it as becoming fluent in truth. If you’re learning a new language, these lies may be uncomfortably familiar to you. But take heart. Truth really can set you free, just as it did for me.
“I Can’t Do This”
Once a month, a woman cleans our house. The first time she came, she had so many questions for me: Where do I keep the cloths? Which is the best bucket to use? What kinds of cleaners do I have? I understood none of these questions! It took hand gestures, a translation app, and her husband showing me photos of the brands she was asking about for me to get what she meant.
When she left, I felt so discouraged. I couldn’t easily communicate these most basic things! Just two months later, however, the woman went straight to the cleaning supplies when she came and we were able to have a basic conversation about our families. At the end of the day, she smiled and remarked how much better my language skills are already.
I can’t do this. My mind has repeated this lie until I believed it. I have said this out loud, closed my textbook, and walked away. Learning a new language often feels like struggling on a long, impossible road filled with big challenges and only small encouragements.
I’m learning to recognize deceptions when they come, so I can counter them with truth instead.
But I can’t focus on how far I have to go, fearing complex grammar structures and literary-level language. Instead, I remind myself of little ways I have already grown in language ability. I now know how to say “thank you” and “good evening,” I learned that sometimes, in navigating the local market, all I need to know is how to ask the price! I’m celebrating those accomplishments.
I choose to replace the thoughts of I can’t do this with I can do this and remember that in many cases, I already am doing this.
“I Will Never Get This”
When this lie takes hold, I imagine myself living here for an extended period, unable to communicate. I play out the scenario of isolation and disconnectedness, picturing my embarrassment as people realize how many years I have lived here without being able to learn the language.
But that is not the truth. Nor is it the reality I’m living. I have been in this country for less than a year, and I am absorbing this language little by little. I know more than I did a month ago, and I know less than I will know a month from now.
I will never get this has been changed to I will get this, but it will take time. Recently, I found this chart of language difficulty for English learners. According to it, the language I’m learning takes longer to master than most. Knowing this helps me grant myself grace, appreciating the time it takes.
“I Don’t Have Enough Time for This”
In the midst of starting a business, learning a new culture, writing, taking care of our home, and caring for our first baby, I can’t devote 100 percent of my time and energy to language study. Virtually no one can! And yet I often feel guilty about this, feeding myself “if only” statements in an attempt to blame my circumstances.
But here’s the truth: I do have some time. I benefit when I’m intentional to carve out parts of my week to study language, by myself and with a tutor. Instead of lamenting over what isn’t, I need to be grateful for what is and get the most out of that as possible.
Maybe for you, “if only” looks like a full-time job or toddlers at home. Perhaps a formal language school with personalized learning isn’t an option. But what resources do you have, even in small doses, that you can show up for and celebrate learning?
Instead of the lie of I don’t have time for this, I’m going with I will give what I can to learn this.
Now think of some lies you tell yourself when you are discouraged or frustrated. What can you do to speak truth to them? ●
Izzy Ashton holds a masters’ degree in counseling, is rarely seen without a book or pen in her hand and enjoys learning how to help people thrive. She and her husband Michael are experienced entrepreneurs who develop businesses cross-culturally that will make a positive impact on their communities. From her home along the Mediterranean, she is striving to learn the balance of well-being and self-care in a rigorous business world. Talk to Izzy.