In a recent blog post, Claire Rochet, discusses how her social anxiety symptoms have made practising and developing her speaking ability in Dutch, the language of her adopted Holland, so difficult: “being misunderstood and judged is one of my main triggers. Which as you understand, makes it quite hard and even impossible to learn a language. And yes, I know that sounding like a five- year-old is part of the process but somehow, I just can’t help it!”
She adds: “As with most triggers, you get caught in a vicious circle. Learning a new language > What if I sound stupid > Not trying > I am not good enough > I should speak>What if I sound stupid > Copy and Paste to infinity!”
Student music teacher, Allison Kay, from the US, describes similar feelings, in her blog post, prior to her teaching work experience: “In theory, I was prepared. I knew the facts, the hypothetical ways to be a successful teacher, the musical knowhow, etc. But I felt terribly unprepared and frightened and anxious. What if I failed? What if my cooperating teachers thought less of me because I struggled with social interaction at times? What if my students didn’t like me? How would I survive talking and singing in front of people all day, both activities that typically stir up significant anxiety in me? What if I realized I hated teaching? What if I messed up? What if I wasn’t perfect right away? What if I couldn’t manage a classroom successfully…? The worries were endless.”
In her reflective account, she acknowledges not being always successful with classroom management: “I had students who didn’t like me. I felt exhausted at the end of almost every day and would sometimes think too much about the fact that I was the center of attention in a room full of people and freak out. One day, my cooperating teacher said she was afraid I wouldn’t come back the next day after a particularly challenging class…Of course, I wasn’t perfect right away. No one is, and the point of student teaching is that you’re becoming ready to be a teacher. No one expected me to be perfect right away.”
She overall enjoyed the experience, taking pleasure in the positive experiences of children in her class: “This semester, I sang in front of classes and my cooperating teachers every day. I came to school each day ready to teach (mostly!) and often excited to do so. I truly enjoyed most aspects of teaching that I experienced and look forward to one day tailoring my own classroom to grow my students in the love of and participation in music-making.” She describes her approach as “I’m afraid, but I’m doing this anyway.” Aside from her training and studies, she also mentions the supporting role of family and friends with whom she could discuss her experiences and, also, her religious faith.
Anxiety symptoms manifest differently between different people and can differ greatly between contexts – and interact with individual co-morbidities – making comparisons unhelpful often. However, Allison’s experiences suggest that, as well as training and expertise, a supportive environment to challenge one’s fears can help one confront social anxiety symptoms.
For Claire, Dutch classes were beneficial but her speaking was still hindered by anxiety and self-doubt: “I often freeze when someone speaks Dutch to me or if I need to speak it. Not that I am lazy or reluctant, but social anxiety definitely comes at play in this case.”
A workplace can be a place to safely test one’s fears and unemployment and isolation can increase them. Metaphysical Parabola, who has written of her own anxiety difficulties, writes of her experiences having been laid off from a cherished job that she had sacrificed much to attain: “Inside I’m screaming at myself. I was a successful Administrative Professional working for a company I loved and I took this opportunity to go work for a school I loved. Then they laid me off. Then I fought more with my spouse. Then we ended up going back to our original state without a home. Now, he has no guaranteed hours. I have been in a constant process to push the past behind, but I can’t forgive myself when I continuously apply for Administrative work and can’t get hired. I cannot find any way to be kind when one small dream has caused this. I also cannot seem to rationalize a way to express my frustration as I know there are families in worse conditions, but I also know you can’t silence a voice for too long.”
She adds in another blog post: “Words have been hard to compose. It seems when I’ve tried to speak, I feel my throat swollen shut, sputting noises creating an incoherent sequence of squeaks. Writing has fallen into a similar hole, with grasping at the few shards of hope that have swayed just barely out of my reach for months.”
Claire Rochet’s approach to struggling with speaking Dutch is to follow her desires, rather than going against them: “Next step will be to bring my ass back to a Dutch class, when I can afford it and when the situation will allow it, and confront myself to a more diversified array of social situations where I can practice my Dutch and sound stupid. And more importantly, not beat myself up too much if I don’t do it!” She expands on her approach in another blog post: “…I did make place for another voice, a more compassionate and nurturing one. And I can even say that it even felt like it was winning at times, which is something I would have never been able to imagine before.”
On not being able to speak the language – The Bad Expat – Claire Rochet