Family, Language, Life

Another Language Failure

A Silent Trip with the In-Laws

Follow my writing journey on Instagram @putintowords_withlee or my blog at

To all those who are struggling with your second language, I feel you!

I stepped up my language learning game recently. Doubling my study time and branching out my resources after researching and writing about hitting intermediate plateaus.

My motivation was an upcoming holiday trip to Hawaii with my in-laws. We see them about once a year, so the pressure is always on to study Korean in preparation (they assume I have plenty of time to be fluent each year).

I increased my speaking and listening practice and was feeling pretty good, even after my incident on Hello Talk.

Read all about how my marriage has hindered my second language on Hello Talk here. h

Vacation day arrived and I boarded the plane thinking, I’m going to blow their Korean socks right off!

No more will I be the silent burden in the corner of the conversation. I was going to speak my mind, compliment and thank them as I had been raised. Show my manners and make my husband proud of my hard work.

Did all that happen?

No… I bombed it.

I fell into the old habit of freezing, silently panicking and looking like a spineless dumb nut.

Reverting to relying on my husband’s brief translations felt like a kick in the gut. I know 100% that he did not convey my point adequately, but who’s fault is that? I need to speak for myself.

All those studying hours down the toilet. Confidence in the gutter. Straight up embarrassed.

I returned home defeated. I was greeted by my pile of Korean books, notes, flashcards and study materials… waiting for their daily workout. Pushing them to the corner of my desk, I could swear I didn’t speak Korean at all.

My motivation disappeared. I rudely ignored messages from pen pals on Hello Talk when they asked how my trip went. I didn’t want to admit failure or lie.

Follow my writing journey on Instagram @putintowords_withlee or my blog at

To put it plainly, I felt sorry for myself. Until I read “Bombing In Your Second Language,” by Carol Zoccoli.

This woman has language learning balls. After so many gut punches, she continued her second language endeavors and forced herself to endure defeats for small important victories. The fact that she can stand on a stage and try to do comedy in her second language strikes the fear of God in me.

Setting self-pity aside and with my new inspiration/motivation returned, it is time for a new game plan.

Methods to Overcome Your Second Language Freezes

The article “12 Ways to Stop Freezing up When You Try to Speak a Second Language,“by Gretchen McCulloch was useful.

Here are Three Simple Language Tips I am Going to Try this Month:

1. Learning Filler Words– Often times in my second language I know what to say, but there is a long pause while I am thinking about how to form my response. In that awkward silence, the listener tries to “help” assuming I don’t know what to say and switches back to English (or gives up on me completely). To combat this, McCulloch suggests learning filler words like the equivalent to umm, oh, hmm, so, then, etc. This will indicate a pause while you are thinking and show that it is not that you don’t know the language.

2. Making Stuff Up– In Korean, there are quite a few words that are in English but pronounced with a Korean accent, such as laptop, taxi, hand phone, etc. Usually, when I hit a roadblock in a Korean conversation where I don’t know a word, I try to look it up quickly. This causes my listener to have to wait and shows my inadequacy. McCulloch suggests “making it up” by pronouncing the word with your second language’s accent. The listener will most likely be able to guess the meaning based off of the context of your conversation.

3. Eavesdropping– I have been frustrated recently with my formulaic Korean. It doesn’t sound natural with all the emotions and flair I would like. McCulloch suggests eavesdropping on native speakers in situations that you would like to learn how to thrive in. Recently, I booked a haircut appointment at a Korean studio. I was amazed what my eavesdropping produced such as- drama between parents and waiting kids, phone conversations, arguments, gossip, you name it, the salon had it! Eavesdropping “politely” is the language learning bomb!

With these new tips paired with my regular routine, I have started tackling my second language again. I have NOT GIVEN UP! Neither should you.

Have you had a second language freeze or defeat? What did you do to break the awkward silence?

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