Do you have a problem with pride? Do you think just a bit too much of yourself? I have a great solution to troubles such as these. It is as follows: Go to a foreign country where your language (or one you know) is not spoken. Move to a small town away from the capital and/or tourist centers. If you are lucky enough to find one, get a job. Live with no more than one or two people who can speak your language. Wait for a few months. Your level of pride should drop by orders of magnitude within weeks.
I have lived in the Czech Republic for over nine months. When I leave my flat and the safe haven of the internet I am surrounded by the Czech language. In my school hallways, in restaurants, at church, on the street. The positive part of this is that I have learned a lot without any formal study. I know numbers and foods in Czech better than most of my students do in English. I have basic greetings down. I know the days of the week and I have learned the months as the year has gone by. When I return to the US I have a handy response to the question “So do you know any Czech?” “Sure. Máte průjem?” (Google translate it my friends, haha).
All these small successes have lately gone to my head. In the past month, I have been picking up more and more words from conversations I hear. Every time I understand a new word it adds to my pride. Thoughts like, “I’m in control here.” “Or I can handle this, why study?” And then as these things tend to do, a series of events occur and I am reminded of how helpless I really am. A man stops me and asks a presumably simple question. I sheepishly say I don’t speak Czech. He looks at me strangely and walks away. I go to the bank and not seeing the English-speaking guy I usually talk to, I realize I cannot even ask anyone if he is there.
All this serves as a great object lesson I think. I don’t have it all together. Never have, never will. When I have successes and I speak correctly or understand something new that is a blessing and worth being happy about. But I cannot forget that right around the corner is another place to slip up and fall if I let myself get too puffed up by my victories. Perhaps it is fortunate I have lived in a foreign land for ten months illustrating this point so clearly?