Language Learning Meltdown

An hour and a half into our Greek class today, I excused myself to the restroom, stared at my face in the mirror, and allowed myself a couple silent sobs before drying my eyes and returning to the classroom.

I don’t know what happened!  Last week we started Level II, and I was feeling pretty confident!  I knew a lot of vocabulary, I was translating for myself into Greek as I went about my day, and I was trying out conversations with strangers on the bus.  But yesterday, something broke in me.  Absolutely nothing was making sense, to the point that our teacher asked me the Greek equivalent of “a or the” and I thought she was talking about a verb.  That is like, day 2 information.

But I left school yesterday determined to catch up.  I copied everything into my Official Grammar and Vocabulary notebook.  I spent four hours on homework last night, and I read through my lists of irregular verbs on the way to class this morning.  The class started, and again….nothing.  My brain could not process anything that anyone was saying.  Hence the bathroom breakdown.  

It’s no good reminding myself of everything I’ve learned (not least because I’m not sure I know it anymore!).  I’ve lost the ability to appreciate that in five weeks, I’ve gone from mispronouncing the Greek alphabet and unable to say, “My name is Tricia,” to conjugating verbs in present, past, and future tenses, learning genders and plural endings, and knowing hundreds of new words.  I mean, okay.  When I write all that out, I’m fairly impressed with myself.  But while I’m in class, I’m just overwhelmed by how my three other classmates have gone through all of that too, and they’re doing just fine.

Except they’re not!  One dropped out last week (we used to be five).  And today, half an hour after my secret breakdown, Elvira said, “I don’t know anything!  Can we please take our break!”  Our teacher thought a moment, said, “I forget that you have only been in this level for one week and two days….this is a lot.  Yes, take a break and then we’ll go slower.”  I cornered Elvira in the kitchen and said, “THANK YOU, I’m totally overwhelmed.  But I thought you were doing okay!”

She laughed and said, “No, I’ve just gotten really good at pretending like I understand what people are saying!”

And then we hugged in the kitchen, one of those special, long, “I’m not the only person who feels like an idiot” hugs.  Then we went to the roof to complain about all of the things that are so so hard.

I mean, then we went back to class and she spoke an entire paragraph in really excellent Greek while I continued to sit in stupefied silence, so fine.  I’m definitely the slowest in the class (which my perfectionistic side HATES).  But it feels so good to know that someone else is struggling, and even more, to know that someone else knows that I am struggling.  It’s awful to feel lost, but it’s even worse to feel alone in your lostness.  And luckily, I really like and trust my classmates and teacher, so I think I can open up tomorrow and admit, “I’ve been pretending to understand almost everything you all say.  I hear a string of words that I know, but by the time my brain has processed them, you’re on to the next idea, and every sentence leaves me further and further behind.  I cannot hear very fast, so every once in a while, would you please speak with a massive pause in between every word?”

Continuing the theme of Feeling Understood, I rode the bus home finishing a book on teen suicide (haha, THAT was helpful) and holding in frustrated tears.  I ran into Ioanna and Olympia in the school parking lot, and they suggested I join them in a late night walk.  “Not tonight,” I said.  “I am so tired….actually, I had a breakdown today.  I’m totally overwhelmed and I can’t remember any Greek.”

Olympia said, “You haven’t forgotten anything, it’s just hiding.  It’ll come back.  But right now, you should just take a shower, sleep, and maybe watch some YouTube videos.”  I beamed at her.  “That is EXACTLY what would heal me.  Thank you.  I definitely want to go on a walk with you guys some other day when I don’t want to die.”

What is the point of this?  A lesson in vulnerability, I guess.  Learning a language is incredibly humbling, and I hate being humbled.  I hate admitting that I don’t know something, or that I’m having a hard time, or that I am struggling when others seem okay.  But….it’s when I admitted those things that I was comforted, either by someone else opening up about their own struggles, or by someone saying exactly what I needed to hear to feel better.

Life sucks sometimes, but it sucks even worse when you keep it all inside.


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