Standing up to be counted can be a big, scary thing. But this week, I was inspired by a spate of self-sharing videos on social media. They were brave fellow learners, who shared their skills in spite of their own reservations about accuracy and fluency. They stuck their heads above the wall.
And the best thing? They received only love and positive vibes back for it.
Seeing them put themselves out there and thrive got me reflecting on my own use of social media. For sure, the medium has been a wonderful platform to share and learn from others. The polyglot community in particular is one of the warmest, most welcoming groups I have ever been part of online.
But sometimes it seems like the real journey – what it is to be in our very own shoes – gets lost behind the sea of text.
Hiding behind words
The irony is that the object of our passion – the love of words – is responsible for hiding this authenticity. Text-only just feels safe. Being disembodied from the whole, we can hold our personalities at a safe distance from the words we throw out there. Lob an utterance, then dive for cover. No surprise, incidentally, that online interaction is so often marred by keyboard warriors who seem much more belligerent in the comments than face-to-face.
No hiding for these brave souls, though. They put themselves out there and proudly proclaim: this is what I do because this is what I love. Huge kudos.
What’s more, they perceptibly grow in confidence from all the constructive feedback. We could all do with a bit of that!
The brick walls
So what holds back those of us who stay – at least for now – in the shadows of Twitter’s 280 characters or the security of the blog post? The shy language learners? As it turns out, the brick walls in our way are pretty universal, and not only amongst language learners.
To start with, there is that big monster Impostor Syndrome. This is the feeling that we are simply getting along by the skin of our teeth, passing in a world full of much more competent peers. It is incredibly common. You can bet that nearly all those competent peers will wonder the same, though. And time and time again, it is the support of friends and colleagues that helps reveal that fallacy and rebuilt your self-belief.
It is also completely normal to be averse to public failure. Nobody likes that – especially if the subject is such a cherished and personally important one. But in that fear, we can forget how enabling and wall-demolishing it can be to take social risks now and again. Being too serious leaves us more vulnerable to the bruises that unconstructive criticism can inflict. Which, by the way, happen much less frequently than we fear. People in a passionate community tend to want to help each other more than not, in my experience.
Finding the brave
Interesting, then, how the things language learners could do well to work on are often not the objects of study themselves, but the wider context of the self. That is, the authentic, language-loving self: the human face hiding behind it all.
And what better inspiration than these polyglot social media sharers?
One of the best things about the polyglot community is solidarity. It comes in big, satisfying dollops with friendly smiles. Through interacting with fellow learners, it not only becomes clear that we all come up against these same brick walls at times. Equally, many friends and colleagues are also eager to share resources to help others climb over them.
One of the most useful tip-offs I received was for Jonathan Huggins’ 30-day Speaking Challenge website. Some participants upload their daily tasks to YouTube, and share their links in the supportive peer environment. However, you can choose to upload just a sound file of you speaking, if that feels more comfortable. It is a safe, supportive environment to start revealing a bit of your authentic, language-learning self.
The challenge was free, but recently became a paid service. That said, having completed it several times in the past, I believe it is well worth the small fee. Jonathan clearly does a great deal of work behind the scenes to support each monthly cohort.
Peering over the brick wall
But you can get started all on your own, by just taking a little step to show your authentic self to the world. So what was stopping me?
I got myself with that one. I really didn’t have a good excuse. And with that answer, I took the plunge. Just a little one, mind. So I leave you with my own little piece of brave – a short clip of me speaking some basic Greek while sitting out in the sun today.
It’s far from perfect. I don’t feel particularly confident about the way I look on there (lockdown scruff). After recording it, I realised I made a mistake (I made Edinburgh feminine instead of neuter). And I haven’t turned it into the all-singing, all-dancing video production I feel it should be in my perfectionist mind.
But I remember those fellow sharers, and I realise that if we focus only on the minor quibbles, we never dare to show anything. So, here is a bit of authentic self. And that’s what we should all be striving to share.