Blog | Intercultural Development | Centre For Excellence

Speak It to Believe It

  • Speak It to Believe It

The following blog post was written by Tahira Ebrahim, Centre Liaison Officer for the Intercultural Centre at Bow Valley College.

I recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. It was as beautiful as people say! I was truly so fortunate to go. And as most trips end up doing for me, I learned a bit more about myself in the process. I travelled to Costa Rica with my husband to visit his family. As most of his family was more comfortable speaking in Spanish, I was immersed into a Spanish speaking home for the majority of the trip. Although I have picked up a bit of Spanish throughout the past year, I was much too self-conscious to speak it. In fact, nothing could have prepared me for my response in this situation.

I have had multiple experiences engaging with individuals where English was not their first language. I have never felt that these individuals were uneducated or lacking in intelligence. But one thing I did realize about them on this trip was how brave they are to take a chance and speak a foreign language. Perhaps even greater than courage, is the humility one must have to try.

In my case, I found myself embarrassed and shy – and for those who know me, that is not a consequence of my personality, but rather, my pride and ego! If I couldn’t speak the language perfectly, I didn’t want to try. I began to isolate myself and disengage from what was going on around me. I soon realized that I had to trust in the safe, warm, and understanding environment that I was in. I needed to create connections with the wonderful people around me. And so I tried, but by no means was it easy. I spoke softly, nervously, and my face felt incredibly flushed every time I opened my mouth. But my attempts were welcomed with open arms. As I practiced my Spanish, the family around me practised their English, creating a safe place for everyone’s trial and error. It was liberating to feel like I could let go!

I have returned to Calgary with a determination to learn the language. I haven’t fully overcome my shyness, and I will enroll myself in a few classes. This experience for me not only highlighted my own performance insecurities, but shed immense light on the emotional challenges that one faces when learning a new language. The next time you meet someone who is new to speaking English, take a moment to consider how you might feel in the same context, and how it might feel to walk in their footsteps. How would you want to be responded to, and supported, in your attempts at trying? Have you ever been completely out of your comfort zone? How do you normally act in those situations?