Overcoming a Language Meltdown

Last week, six weeks of daily Greek lessons finally caught up to me and melted my brain.  It was the weirdest sensation – I could “see” all the information I’d learned, but everything was behind a mental glass wall.  No matter how hard I tried to break through, the wall remained.  I am happy to report that yesterday, everything came rushing back, and I’m actually enjoying learning Greek again.  How did this happen?  Well, I can identify three possible causes:

  1. I did no homework and spoke no Greek on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.
  2. I skipped class.
  3. I repeated, “I don’t care about Greek, I don’t care if I sit there and say, ‘Δεν ξἐρω’ over and over again, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care.”

Many, many people told me to “stop trying so hard,” and I finally understand why.  It feels counter-productive to stop doing something in order to get better at it, but….at least this time, that is exactly what worked!  

My friend Jenna is visiting me for a few days, and on Monday we meant to go to the Acropolis in the morning so that I could go to class in the afternoon. But we finished near 1:00 and there were so many other sites to see!  Plus I….really didn’t want to go to class!  So I just skipped, and I felt guilty, and I felt that special kind of relief when you feel happy despite feeling guilty.  Jenna and I were complete idiots, taking videos and pictures at various ancient sites, and I had such a good time.  Speaking only English.  It was wonderful!

On Tuesday, I walked to class, repeating my mantra (which obviously really means, “I care so much, I care so much, I care so much”).  But it was good to remind myself that, hey, it’s not the end of the world if I don’t know this.  The class is almost over and I can learn Greek later at a slower pace with Dina.  So imagine my surprise when I passed a coffee shop and saw Eleni, my Level I Greek teacher.  Before I knew my mouth was moving, I was saying, “Καλημἐρα!  Τι κἀνεις;  Η φἰλη μου εἰναι στην Αθἠνα τὠρα, και χτες πἠγαμε στην Ακρὀπολη, στο μουσεἰο της Ακρὀπολης…” and on and on.  I was having an actual conversation, and yes, she helped me along with some vocabulary, but it was at that moment that I realized the mental wall was gone.  The thing that had said, “Don’t even try, you’ll mess it all up!” and turned into, “Well, you messed that up, but keep going, you sound amazing!”

When I got to class, Roza was unhappy that I had skipped class without telling her (which is fair).  She was even more unhappy when I told her I would also miss Wednesday because Jenna and I are going to an island (also fair).  BUT then I totally rocked the class!  Not in a getting-everything-right way.  But I talked a lot, and I interjected, and I answered questions, and I figured out the things they had discussed on Monday, and I felt like I was swimming instead of drowning.  After reading a dialogue and correctly remembering how to say “1982” in Greek, Roza said, “Τρισια μου!  θαὐμα!” and I said, “My brain is back on!”  By the end of class, when I said I would see everyone on Thursday, she happily said goodbye, probably wondering how much more of a genius I would become by skipping another class.

I’m exaggerating, of course.  I didn’t become a genius.  I just regained the ability to try.  And there is NO part of me that wants to immediately jump into the next level of Greek.  I am positive that my brain needs a break from such intense studying.  It’s all I can manage to look forward to our last two days of classes.  And maybe I’ll go in on Thursday and be at a total loss.  That’ll be okay.  Because now I know that even if the knowledge leaves me for a little while, it’s still there.  It will come back.  And sometimes, all I need to do to coax it back is stop trying to be smart and to instead embrace my creativity and silliness.

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2 thoughts on “Overcoming a Language Meltdown

  1. I’ve had similar experiences when learning something…it happened to me with French, with Spanish, and in learning to play the accordion. You reach a plateau and get really frustrated and you make no progress. So you quit for a few days, then start again and surprise yourself that you’ve made a leap ahead that seemed impossible only days before. This is normal. Just don’t stop for a few days and then not go back. Go back! You are doing great!

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