I have mused before about working in three languages, but I was reminded last week about the less glamorous side of speaking more than one language well: not speaking the language of a particular conversation as well as one would like. I was having a conversation in German describing my research, which I do primarily in English. I had the distinct impression that my conversation partner wasn’t being won over by my argument, but what frustrated me most was feeling like I didn’t express myself well enough. There are so many subtleties that I know, just know, I am not expressing because I often pick verbs that are too general. Then, when I do use a precise verb, I can tell by someone’s reaction that I picked the wrong one. Now I am being too precise and have inadvertently focused the conversation on another matter than I had intended. Ladled on that are the differences in research or classroom culture where you want to say “So macht man das nicht!” (We don’t do it that way/That would never work).
Ultimately, deciding to continue to work in another language means a combination of giving up some pride in one’s ability to express a specific point and determining anew to learn more of that language, especially as it pertains to the particular domain you want to talk about, in this case, classroom research. I am also reminded that I have some of the same problems in conversation interactions where I am doing something new like going to the gym to workout (I asked for a locker instead of a lock!). I tell myself we all need to have some self-compassion in these difficult interactions, which in turn should lead to compassion for others in similar situations.