During my sophomore year as a university student, I had the opportunity to teach ESL, English as a Second Language. My job was as a ‘conversation’ tutor. The students had learned the fundamentals of English as they went through school in their native countries, but still needed conversation classes to be able to apply the components in actual speech. We listened to “In Your Wildest Dreams” (1986 Moody Blues,) and watched the movie “Field of Dreams” (1989 directed by Phil Alden Robinson) over and over, ad nauseum, until the students were able to fill in the blanks in the sentences with lyrics and dialog.
That my students were all Asian did not mean they spoke the same language, or even the same dialect. As human beings we share emotional languages amongst ourselves, but each person has his/her own dialect that must be learned and understood.
While at BYU I worked nights at a major hotel. One evening I was describing features available to an incoming guest, including hors d’ oeuvres in the bar. I had never made the connection between the spelling of these bite size appetizers and the pronunciation. When I tried wow this guest with this information, I pronounced hors d’oeuvres phonetically, including the ‘H.’ I knew what the spoken word meant and used the correct pronunciation all the time. But whenever I read it in a book, I thought it was pronounced ‘horsdevors’ I was mortified that I had never made the connection between how it is spelled and its use in conversation.
Like my faux pas with hors d’ oeuvres, there can be a gulf between what is understood intellectually, and what is actually experienced.
Emotion as a Second Language requires practice and sometimes repetition when you just don’t get it. Often we need a conversation tutor’s support to bridge the gap between personal understanding and our interactions with our loved ones and supporters. We know how we should be acting and feeling, the technical aspects of interrelationships, but it takes practice with them before we can make them our own
- When some emotions are taken at face value they can be treacherous. With Emotion as a Second Language, you can turn your liability into a strength. Learn how to translate raw emotions into appropriate and manageable chunks. By taking what is overwhelming and breaking it into its component parts, (like diagramming a sentence), it becomes clear that was seems insurmountable is in fact attainable and doable.
- Sit down with someone you trust and check your premises. Is your thought process appropriate to the situation? You need to break down your emotions into recognizable parts. This enables you to teach another person your language, your personal dialect, in the broader spectrum. Just because we all have emotions and can apply labels, your dialect still may need translation, even to yourself, let alone your support network.
- What you think you may be saying and what the other person hears may be completely at odds with each other. Like playing telegraph as a young child, the message is passed along person to person until at the end the message comes out garbled with the interpretations of those passing it along. They don’t mean to make it up, but somewhere in the process of telling and hearing the message breaks down.
- Had I just had someone help me bridge the gap between what was on the written page and its verbal interpretation, I could have been saved from embarrassment. But I didn’t have the insight to know I needed help pronouncing it. I didn’t know I had a problem with it. The people around me were not mind-readers and so had no idea that I would have a deficiency. No doubt they would have corrected me had they known.
- When we don’t have the self-insight to get help when we need it, our supporters can hold up a mirror so we can understand and correct our deficiencies. Several years ago my husband sat me down and told me that I could get mean when I was manic. I had no idea that the things I was saying were coming off as hurtful. I knew I got irritable when the mania was crashing, but no one had ever told me that my sarcasm increased and my patience decreased. I was so grateful that he had the courage to put a mirror up to me. My job was to listen and act on it. I had to learn a new dialect when dealing with my family.