Recently Sunny shared her story of arriving in the U.S. for the first time, and suddenly feeling she had forgotten all the English she ever learned – asking for the phone seemed an impossible task. Anil wrote in to share a similar experience. When he arrived at J.F.K. airport this fall, coming from Turkey to attend a graduate program, he was overwhelmed.
For a while Anil says he avoided communicating with people and joining in with activities because of how he struggled with his English, but then something happened that got him over his fears:
I can clearly remember that day. I felt like I had to do something, as usual, and I jumped from my couch. I gave myself a simple purpose for hitting the road: buying some raisins for my oatmeal (if you are an oatmeal fan, you already know that oatmeal and dried fruit are perfect matches. If you are not, I suggest you give it a shot. After that experiment you will understand me more clearly).
After I started my journey to the shop, I was just happy to be outside. I said “good afternoon” to some folks and I received some smiles. I was thinking that a day could not be more awesome. I entered the store and I started searching for raisins in an aisle of dried fruit. But they weren’t there. I was so disappointed, but because my task was finding raisins for my next day’s oatmeal, I decided to ask a staff person.
I found a staff member and walked up to her. “Hi, how are you? I have a problem.” After a second she asked me, “Yes sir, how may I help you?”
I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t remember the word: raisin. I felt my face was burning, but I also knew I had to cope with the problem. Suddenly, I found an exit door for my situation. I decided to try and describe raisins.
First I told her, “I want to buy some grapes which are not full with juice.” She threw me a gaze and said she couldn’t understand me. I tried another way. I said, “I am looking for the opposite of fresh grapes.” She was just shocked even more by what I had said and repeated, “I don’t understand.” I decided to take my last chance: “Do you have wrinkled, dried, ugly grapes?”
She started laughing so hard and after a minute she pointed me to another aisle that had raisins. I was feeling a bit embarrassed, but I was proud of myself too, since I had accomplished my task. At the cashier, I heard the staff person’s voice. She asked my name and we started talking. She told me that at first she thought I was imitating a foreigner, but after she realized it was not a prank she felt really bad. So, we became friends.
As you see, there is no need to be afraid because of low communication skills. I am so regretful that I didn’t try to communicate with people sooner. Just try to express yourself. It is the perfect way to improve yourself, and creating your own way brings laughter, new memories, and stories to share.
How did you get over your fears about speaking in a foreign language? Share your experiences in the comments or using the form below.