C.O.N.F.I.D.E.N.T. That’s me. I’m confident.
Quite honestly, that’s how I wish I felt all the time. Confidence, though, is not always that simple. I cannot just wish myself to be confident and self-assured. It takes a level of familiarity and comfort in your skills or abilities to reach that stage.
"Confidence is not about doing everything right or being perfect."
To be comfortable in who you are and where you are gives you the freedom to grow as an individual. Confidence is not about doing everything right or being perfect. It’s about being okay with your mistakes. Knowing that you will mess up is okay.
To be confident is to be brave. And confidence can be learned. This is what I’ve learned from language-learning.
I’ve never been timid, but I am a perfectionist. In language classes, I would spend minutes formulating the grammatically “perfect” sentence before daring to raise my hand to answer a question. I feared misspeaking. I feared misunderstanding a question. This way of learning Spanish worked in a classroom setting, but it doesn’t work for real-time conversation. I quickly came to this realization when I was placed in an immersive experience with actual Spanish speakers for the first time. They weren’t grading me on my Spanish; they were simply asking me questions and wanting to have a conversation--but it took so long, I couldn't sustain the conversation, even though my skills were there. I had to train myself to make mistakes.
Let’s switch it around. If a non-native English speaker begins to speak to you, and they do not have a perfect “American” accent, nor do they speak without error, do you immediately disregard them? No. Generally, you can still understand if someone says “are” instead of “is”. Our brains are trained to decipher different voices, so if an accent is placed on the wrong syllable, our brains can still recognize the words. Conversation is more about the big picture. It’s about general ideas, emotions, and thoughts that you’re sharing between one or more people. It’s not about single words. Each individual word only helps you to get your point across. Simplistic vocabulary can convey the same message as overly complicated jargon.
"Confidence comes from practice, and this is what you have to learn outside a classroom."
You have to first become confident in your ability to speak simply before you can grow and learn more technical words. This confidence comes from practice, and this is what you have to learn outside a classroom. Spending countless time formulating a perfect sentence won’t do you any good if you can’t actually say it in a real-world scenario. You have to learn to express yourself in simple terms.
This skill, though, is not so easily learned inside a classroom. Speaking in front of a class or to a teacher who is giving you a grade is not exactly a low-pressure environment. It’s much easier to feel embarrassed when speaking in this sort of setting. A language-learning opportunity where you get to speak with someone you know well, and they are the only person that hears you: this is comforting.
"With Project Olas, I am starting to learn back my confidence."
It’s much easier to start making mistakes when you know the person hearing them will not judge you. With Project Olas, I am starting to learn back my confidence. When I make mistakes speaking with Jeimy, she never laughs at me, nor does she even ask me to repeat what I said. She’ll explain the word or conjugation I was looking for, and she proceeds to answer my question or continue the conversation. There’s little to no pause.
The more comfortable you get making these mistakes, the better you will become at speaking.
"The words you speak matter, and your voice is worth being heard—in other languages too."
The beauty of Olas is that you get to learn confidence. You get to practice your Spanish in a truly judgement-free zone. So be confident—confident in your skills. Confident in your ability to learn and grow. And confident that the time you spend speaking does make someone else’s day brighter. The words you speak matter, and your voice is worth being heard—in other languages too.
Millie is the Director of Finance at Olas, and an Olas student. She is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University.