This week, I’m blogging from the grand hall of the Union Hotel in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as an excitable, kid-in-a-candy-store, first-time attendee of the annual Polyglot Conference. As expected, it’s been a bit of a language wonderland. I’ve been stuffed full of fresh ideas and inspiration for new projects.
But one concrete lesson it has taught me is this: impostor syndrome, that fear of not being good enough, is pretty much ubiquitous. However, more importantly, community is the antidote for it.
Now, I am naturally quite a shy person. A shy polyglot – what a frustrating thing to be. All those languages, and all that extra anxiety speaking to new people! Needless to say, it was quite a leap to book my conference ticket. But it was completely worth it, not least for the “people practice”, as I like to call it. An especially valuable observation has been a tonic for my confidence as a passionate polyglot.
You see, imposter syndrome is BIG. We all feel it from time to time, even the most outwardly confident people. The phenomenon of internet celebrity plays its part – sometimes it’s hard to feel good enough when our heroes and idols appear to be such runaway successes.
It is that feeling that you are not on the same shelf as all those other impressive people. You’re a pretender to the throne, just blagging, a bit of a fraud. You can’t really speak all those languages. You know just a bit at best, and would crumble under scrutiny. In short, you aren’t really a fully-fledged polyglot – just a wannabe who can say a few words.
But let me tell you two things. Firstly, you are absolutely not alone in feeling this. Secondly, none of those fears are based in truth.
Look yourself in the face
One wonderful thing about the polyglot community is that it acts like a mirror. Be bold enough to look into it, and you see yourself reflected back multiple times. You realise the universality of your experience.
Put a few hundred language enthusiasts in a room, and it leaps out at you. We are all achieving, succeeding, thriving. In different ways, at different levels, yes. But nobody is a fraud. Revelling in a love of language learning is all it takes to be part of this club. There is no such thing as the fully-fledged, perfectly shaped polyglot.
Something quite sweet happened to me at the conference, which confirmed the truth of this.
At the best of times, socialising with hundreds of unknown people is daunting. Very few of us are natural schmoozers. And so it was that I found myself, lunch plate in hand, hovering alone around groups of people that seemed so much better at small talk than I am.
Serendipitously, my forlorn wanderings were noticed. I was rescued by a kindly (and similarly floating) delegate, and naturally, we got chatting about our language journeys. It was an easy point of conversation; all delegates bore self-decorated name badges, including sticky flags representing our languages and proficiency.
A little push…
The thing was, my conference friend started to mention her experience of languages not on my name badge. Each time, I piped up: oh, I know a bit of that! And each time, the reply was the same – so where is your flag? Exasperated by my explanation that I just don’t know enough of it!, she dragged me to the table of flags and insisted that I add them.
Shortly afterwards, we found ourselves in the language room, an area with designated tables for a common ‘big’ languages to encourage speaking. Thanks to the extra flags, I ended up having conversations in old / discontinued / parked languages I never expected to use.
And guess what? I coped!
What’s more, nobody else was the perfect, native-fluency wizard I built them up to be. We simply shared the joy of language. I spoke to people who shared my fears, felt too shy to speak, but once prompted, just couldn’t stop communicating. Understanding each other’s common experiences, polyglot friends were patient, kind and encouraging. All it takes is a bit of self-belief to get going (and sometimes, a little push from someone who can spark that it in you).
You are good enough. Be sure of it.
9 thoughts on “Impostor syndrome? Prescribe yourself some polyglot community!”
I’m heading to the Polyglot conference in Japan in a few weeks and this helped calm my nerves! The Imposter Syndrome is real, and it sucks. Hope to see you there this year!
Hey, glad it helped! 🙂 As much as I’d love to be there this year, it didn’t fall together this time round. Awaiting the announcement of the 2020 venue with bated breath though – hopefully next year! Have a great time there, I am *sure* you’ll find exactly the same warmth and acceptance that I did.
I am a shy person too. I even shy to admit that I am attempting to learn new languages. Really hope that I will get the courage to approach people to enhance my newly learnt languages. There are lots of people here, even most of my colleagues can speak this particular language, but…I just got shy, fear approaching them.
Good luck – I understand those initial nerves completely! I once worked with a colleague who spoke the language I was learning, but I held back for fear of seeming annoying. When I finally plucked up the courage, they were more annoyed with me for not speaking sooner! 🙂 All the best for taking that step!