I used to have zero confidence
In high school, I was extremely shy and could only speak my home languages, Afrikaans and English, with some drops of French in between. I thought languages were simply school subjects which needed passing grades, and I didn’t take my classes further to exercise speaking outside of school. I took Arabic and French at school, but remained shy and so scared of people that I wouldn’t even walk 5 meters away from my parents in a mall.
Discovering the joy of communicating
Once I discovered the joy that comes from interacting with people from new cultures and the benefits that learning new languages bring, I couldn’t stop! Gradually, I started self-studying over 10 languages to varying levels. With each language, I grew in confidence and honed in my methods. But this did not happen overnight.
It all started with Korean
Korean was the first foreign language I self-studied outside of French and Arabic at school. My mom found an ad for free Korean lessons in the newspaper (mostly aimed at Taekwondo students) and suggested we try it since many of my school friends were Korean. I thought “meh, I have nothing to lose” and sleepily went for the 8AM classes every Saturday.
After a few months of learning, some Korean friends of mine invited me to go to Korea with them for a month. This was my last year of high school and I was still my geeky, introverted self who preferred to stay at home. I took the plunge though, and wanted to explore this country that I had only ever encountered through its language (and a little bit of food that my teacher let us try).
Being in Korea with a basic Korean level was a challenge, but I soon fell in love with the culture, the people, the music, the liveliness of the cities and the serenity of the countryside. This, I knew, would be a place I want to return to, with a fluent level of speaking the next time I go. Since then, it has been almost 13 years since I started learning Korean.
Pushing myself to speak to people
I worked harder and harder to study Korean until I was at a conversational and upper beginner level. I remember how scared I was to say “hello” to the Korean shop owner down the road from us. I remember my very first conversation at a Korean bazaar where I thought “wow, I can actually understand everything without needing to translate in my head!”. These are special milestones for me that helped give me confidence.
In another situation, I was in a coffee shop and saw a table with people speaking Korean. My dad, who is always by my side encouraging me, nudged me to go and introduce myself and say hello. I was trembling, hands sweating, but I knew I had to do it if I wanted to practice Korean and make friends. We had a wonderful conversation and I actually befriended these people and saw them regularly after that.
At the same cafe a few years later, I met an Emirati girl who spoke Arabic (I think she actually came up to me when she saw I was studying Japanese, because so was she) and we became good friends. I feel like cafes are great places to meet people of different languages if you’re not shy to say hello!
More recently, I was sitting in a cafe with my boyfriend. Four men and a young boy walked in speaking Arabic and sat at the table next to us. I was so excited that I understood basic phrases they said, such as “ordering 5 coffees” and “sit on this chair” and “that’s enough”. I was reminded of the previous incidents where I spoke to strangers, and knew I would regret it if I didn’t say hello to the Arabic group. It took me 12 minutes to stop trembling and dry my sweaty hands, check Google Translate audio a few times to make sure I wasn’t going to mess up my rusty pronunciation.
My boyfriend could see I was very nervous, and he said he’d help me by breaking the ice. We walked up to them and he said “sorry to bother you…” and wanted to continue to say “my girlfriend is learning Arabic” but I had a burst of courage to greet them with “Assalamu alaykum” and continue in Arabic with “my name is Lindie, I am learning Arabic. I learned Arabic in Dubai at school. Where are you from?” They were from Syria, Canada and Dubai. We spoke a bit about where we lived in Dubai and they said that my Arabic was really good (probably just being nice; I know I made mistakes and have a long way to go).
With every situation like this, I slowly gained more and more confidence. After that, I started learning more languages and realized it’s possible to learn multiple languages at once. I started learning Japanese, then added on Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, Malay, Spanish and Hungarian to varying levels.
How I’ve grown
Since then, I’ve worked as a designer at a Japanese-speaking agency and given presentations completely in Japanese, spoken Hungarian on live TV in Hungary, held workshops for diplomats, kids and adults to learn languages, designed and co-founded a language app. I also spoke on stage in front of tons of people about my language learning journey — the ultimate get-over-your-fear-and-do-it situation!
Was I ready for any of these? NO. Did I do it in fear anyway? YES.
And that’s the difference — doing things scared. It’s always, always worth it.
I also started sharing all my language learning methods and mindsets on YouTube, growing my channel to over 314K subscribers. One of my videos is about how I gained confidence as a result of becoming a YouTuber. I now run a monthly language learning newsletter that is growing steadily, and I coach language learners on how to find the confidence and right mindsets and study methods for them to succeed at language learning.
If it weren’t for learning Korean, I wouldn’t be here. If it weren’t for foreign languages, I would probably still be the shy girl I was. I am still an introvert who loves her me-time, but I am no longer scared of speaking to strangers and using languages as a way to connect with the world.