Standing in front of the class, I hear my partner explain in great detail the title of our presentation, but after a few seconds, her voice slowly drowns out and fades away. Looking around the room, and seeing the curious eyes of other students, of the professor, of everyone, stare right back at me, I feel myself frozen in place, stuck to the ground and in the depths of my mind.
But soon enough, my slide from the powerpoint eventually appears on the screen, and I have no choice but to speak. Stupidly, I decide to not read from my notes, and by the time the first word has escaped my mouth, I find myself wishing I could take it right back. As I stutter my way along through my explanation and analysis of misogyny throughout time, my mind remains focused on my inadequacy and incompetence to speak one-hundred percent perfect German. Do they notice that I conjugated the verb wrong? Did I even use the right verb? Am I even making sense?
Self-doubt consumed me and made my nerves shake and shiver to the point where, mid-way during my speech, I ended up switching to English. Despite when other students gave me encouraging nods throughout the presentation and even responded to the content I was presenting, my disappointment was immeasurable, both during and after the presentation.
I felt that, by speaking English, I had let myself down. But looking back on the whole dilemma a few weeks later, I realize that the only thing, the only person, holding myself back was me. The truth is, I know how to speak German, and I know that messing up one or two words is not the end of the world. Yet being the center of attention, even just for twenty minutes, completely broke me. In my mind, I knew others would judge me, and I hated feeling that I may not be taken as seriously or would be perceived as strange standing up in front of everyone while speaking with an accent and using the wrong grammatical form of a word.
But I realized that these emotions were just symptoms of someone who finally stepped out of their comfort zone. As an introvert, presentations and standing in front of the class have always terrified me. I always felt more solace in expressing myself through pen and paper or between a few people rather than several all at once. Doing so in German was even worse, as I had to concentrate on not just what I said, but how I said it. Nevertheless, taking the risk to speak in front of others in a language that is not my mother tongue truly helped me to begin to get rid of this idea that I always have to be perfect in whatever I do.
The truth remains that no one is perfect and to learn another language, or just learn more about yourself, you have to take a risk, even if that risk is just talking about a topic for a couple of minutes. Stepping out of my comfort zone has made me realize that I need to learn to trust myself more than ever. Nothing comes easy, especially language learning, but practicing to speak has helped me improve immensely. Learning another language is not just memorizing key phrases; it is also learning yourself and how you communicate in a new tongue, something that I was forced to learn when I realized that my brain was not a dictionary and I was going to have to communicate some way or another when I did not have the words to express myself completely.
I would be lying if I said that I always felt comfortable speaking German or just stepping out of my comfort zone in general, but taking risks and getting uncomfortable has helped me improve not just my language skills but my personal skills as well.