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Resiligo (n.) The fusion of linguistic prowess & boundless confidence.

In this feature piece, Olea Ambassador Aimee reflects on how diving into 3 different languages (French, Spanish & Portuguese) left a lasting positive influence on her self-confidence.

I recently came across a LinkedIn post by Olive which explored the idea that “no one learns a language faster than the person who does not get embarrassed.” As a language student who embodies all the stereotypes, I couldn’t help but reflect on this within the context of my year abroad (... did you know I went on a year abroad?? 😎).

Throughout my experience, I've found a direct correlation between my ability to speak foreign languages and my level of confidence.

Moments of genuine pride in my language skills have always taken place when I wasn’t embarrassed to make mistakes. However, my experience with studying and learning languages have also bolstered my self-confidence. It’s a funny little catch-22.

My second year of university at Bristol consisted of me sitting in my cosy classrooms surrounded by like-minded languages students, being asked by my warm and smiley Spanish lecturer “¿Qué hiciste este fin de semana?” or being asked about how to combat the growing anglicismes in the French language, as if any suggestion I came up with could single-handedly solve the problem for France.

In my ab-initio Portuguese classes, any question asked came with a “meu amor” lovingly plastered on the end, from my kind Portuguese lecturer who treated us all like a big extended family. I was deeply submerged in my comfort zone, and I felt able to practise and speak the languages I was studying with upmost confidence and little to no fear of mistakes.

However, this nurturing environment when suddenly ripped away from me when I arrived in Paris two months after finishing my exams to start an internship translating for a law firm. An entirely French-speaking workplace full of Parisians who looked like they had just climbed out of an edition of Vogue became where I would spend most of my time for the next six months.

My worries about making mistakes in front of native speakers meant that I initially struggled to communicate effectively; for all my many years of learning French, I felt as if I was straight back in Year Six learning the colours and the alphabet.

Of course, this got easier with time and I was able to converse with my colleagues more confidently, but I still felt that the moments where my French truly thrived were when I was completely relaxed and unembarrassed; chatting with uber drivers who were AMAZED that an English girl could speak French and making friends with the people who ran the bar below my friend’s studio just off Montmartre.

My languages flourished when I embraced vulnerability and wasn’t afraid to be wrong.

Arriving in Portugal for the second part of my year abroad, I felt a new-found determination and excitement, having had a wonderful time in Paris and wanting to make the absolute most of this term as well. When I sat down in a Brazilian Literature class and found that not only was the teacher expecting profound literary analysis in Portuguese, but that there were two other British students in the class who, very selfishly, spoke fluent Portuguese, I began to feel that familiar twinge of my language skills bolting at the first sign of danger.

But I tried to confront these moments of uncertainty with determination and resilience, no matter how butchered my Portuguese was. Through these experiences, I learned that immersion in a foreign culture offered invaluable insights into my language proficiency and self-perception, and how they varied in different environments.

I would feel as if I was speaking fluent French to someone who I was seeing in Porto but when we were with the rest of his French friends, I turned into a "oui, non ça va bien merci" robot. Similarly, I remember being able to have a fifteen-minute conversation with the friendly woman who worked at a brigadeiro stand near my university, where she (kindly) told me that my Portuguese was nearly fluent, but turned very shy when celebrating the academic week with a friendly group of Portuguese students.

A very inebriated Canadian boy explaining his experiences with having two official languages in his country once told me that you can speak a foreign language most fluently when you are drunk, and although this experiment may be one to try at your own risk, in a roundabout way it confirms Olea's philosophy that:

Speaking a foreign language fluently often requires confronting insecurities head-on and embracing the process with humility and humour.

Treating foreign languages as a journey full of funny little mishaps, rather than a rigid set of rules, is always the best way to keep learning and improving. On the other hand, I do not believe that it is a merely a confidence to fluency pipeline. Learning a foreign language can equally help to improve your self-confidence, as it forces you to step outside your comfort zone and embrace new challenges with confidence.

Over the past year, I have been able to meet and connect with so many different people, live by myself, navigate new cities, discover new food (yes to pastel de natas, no to sea snails at a French work Christmas dinner!) and more.

The final part of my year abroad consisted of a month in Valencia with one of my best friends that I had met in Paris, and although it had been a year since I had last studied Spanish, I felt confident to speak to anyone and everyone. It felt great to be at that point and see how far I had come, looking back to that terrified girl stepping off the Eurostar over a year prior.

My experience allowed me to build a sense of resilience and adaptability that transcends language barriers. Returning to university this year, I can see that my year of being immersed in the languages I study has provided me with a newfound confidence and ease in navigating my life as a fourth-year student.

Reregistering at the student health services has been a breeze compared to applying for metro cards, dodging apartment scammers and trying to cancel my Paris gym membership. But most importantly, being pushed to communicate in different languages has shown me that that I am capable of overcoming obstacles and thriving in diverse environments.

To put it simply, the relationship between self-confidence and language proficiency is deeply intertwined, and it is impossible to nurture one without massively boosting the other.


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