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What are you scared of?

Recently, I have been toying with the possibility of changing my Facebook relationship status to, “It’s complicated.” With whom, you may ask?  With French. That’s whom!

You see, I am deep into my second semester of a Master’s in Conference Interpreting. The past five months have been…well…hard! And at the top of my Fear List is my love-hate relationship with French. French and I are in a power struggle. French is winning.

It’s never enough

French has spent years nagging me to soften my accent. I comply, only to be told that my syntax is lacking. I have sat for countless hours learning to conjugate an infinite number of irregular verbs… only to be told that my prepositions are less than attractive.

French assigns gender to every one of its nouns. According to the internet ( French Nouns Gender, to be exact), 80% of French nouns can be determined by their ending. That leaves 20%!  Plus, the exceptions to the rules make me dizzy. For example, the ending –age can be masculine (le mariage, un age), or feminine (la page). And then there are the prepositions! Don’t get me started on the prepositions.

French baffles me, eludes me, teases me and, let’s be frank, French scares me.

And there is the magic word: fear. Fear is what I’m really here to talk about. French is a symptom—Fear is the cause.

Personally, I think it’s about time we had a frank conversation about our fears. Since I can’t expect you to take me seriously without first being honest with you, I’m going first.

Here are my top three fears, in order:

  1. My language skills will never be good enough
  2. My interpreting skills will never be good enough
  3. My skills will someday be good enough, but it won’t matter, because my field will be replaced by Artificial Intelligence.

There you go. I said them. Those are my fears. And I mean it; these things scare me. No matter how often I repeat, if there’s a will, there’s a way; no matter the evidence to the contrary regarding my abilities; no matter how much I work to overcome obstacles…these fears will always be a part of me. And if Fear is yelling at me every time I try to conjugate a verb in French, it’s no wonder sometimes the stress is overwhelming.

The unexpected ally

So, I have to learn to make friends with Fear. Together, we’re learning to be nicer to me. It turns out that it’s easier to learn things when Fear is sitting next to you holding your hand, instead of offering a constant whisper of, you’re not good enough. And it turns out that, if you’re really willing to look at your Fear, you can make that whisper stop. Fear just wants to be heard, and then it will let you keep trying to pursue that big scary thing you want so bad.

I have a plan now to make friends with all my Fears at the same time. I’m working to integrate my language skills into my day, not through lists and plans but by watching and listening to Spanish shows I enjoy. By reading books in French that I like. By speaking without second guessing myself.

A faithful partner

I’m working to relax and slow down. Ironically, by going slower, I learn more. French starts to be a willing partner once Fear is on my side.

I’m learning to incorporate extra practice when I can, and not beat myself up when I don’t.

I’m learning to take time away from my language to do other things.

I’m learning to look at my fears and say, yes, I might not succeed…but what if I do? Basically, Fear is still there—it’s just not in charge anymore.

(And I’m just going to ignore the question of artificial intelligence for now…)

And there you have it. My complicated relationship with French, it is really about making friends with Fear.

And what about you? What are you scared of? And most importantly, what do you plan to do about it?


Portrait of Athena Matilsky
Athena Matilsky
Athena Matilsky fell in love with Spanish the year she turned 16. She chose it as her major at Rutgers University and selected a focus in translation and interpreting. After graduation, she taught elementary school in Honduras and then returned home to begin freelancing as a medical and court interpreter. She has since achieved certifications as a Healthcare Interpreter and a Federal Court Interpreter. She was the recent editor-in-chief of Proteus. Currently, she works as a freelance interpreter/translator and trains candidates privately for the state and federal interpreting exams. When she is not writing or interpreting, you may find her practicing acroyoga or studying French. Website: https://athenaskyinterpreting.wordpress.com/

2 Comments
  • Gila Khabbaza
    Posted at 16:21h, 01 March Reply

    Thanks Athena. Your comments made me laugh out loud (the complicated relationship with French) since I struggle with the same issues when it comes to French. I love the way you look at it as a relationship, and have made fear to be your friend. I try to do that with my anxiety and turn it into excitement instead. That way I am more excited than anxious or fearful! 🙂 The way I look at it is: What are the options? Do we go forward or just give up? I am interpreting in Arabic, Farsi, and Dari. For me French is the next step and it is a tough one (especially since the noun genders do not correlate to the Arabic genders so it’s even more confusing to try to remember that in one language this is feminine and in another it’s masculine!!!). And all this in the simultaneous 160 words a min mode!!! Yet, what are the options? For me, it is to either give up, and stick to the languages I am fluent in and know best (while in actuality there is no 100% fluency, because there are always new things to learn, and new fields to explore), or to take a chance, and push myself to achieve more in French the truly mysterious, exciting, beautiful, most romantic of all languages? For one thing, I feel my brain get sharper when challenge myself. Not to mention that I absolutely LOVE this languages. So yes, watching TV5MONDE and reading French books is fun if nothing else. Plus it prevents me from getting rusty. And the very act of learning, is hopefully going to help us stay sharp when we get older. As for fear (artificial intelligence could never compete with us! ;), I think my biggest fear with the court interpreting is the heavy responsibility we bear as interpreters. Somebody’s future could take a different path due to the way we interpret a certain phrase (which in one dialect of Arabic could mean one thing and another in a different dialect). With immigration courts, somebody could get deported (and killed) if the interpretation is not accurate. I fear forgetting a word while doing simultaneous interpreting and falling behind. I fear getting distracted while I am supposed to be super-focused on my job, yet the more assignments I take, the more I face my fear, the easier it gets. If I do forget a word, I quickly recall a way to describe the word I’m looking for, and find an alternate. I allow myself to be imperfect, because the goal is to communicate the meaning of the sentence. I also tell myself “I got this!” which is rather reassuring to my inner child which often gets scared in new situations. Connecting with other interpreters is very helpful as well. Our field is very unique and quite different from the average 9-5 routine jobs. We are constantly on edge, constantly bettering ourselves, competing, trying to keep up with the latest technology, and terminology. In a way it is rather exciting, because when we look back, we can smile and say I am glad I took a chance! 🙂

    As for my relationship with French, I have decided to take it slow and take my time with it. To get to know each other, before jumping in! 😉

    You are amazing Athena and I am sure you will do great. Keep the posts coming, and merci! 😉

    – Gila

  • Alfredo Babler
    Posted at 17:17h, 01 March Reply

    Hey goddess! Good stuff. Missed ya! Yeah, Good thing you’re not scared of clowns, ‘cause that’s me. Anyhoo, definitely Skynet (Artificial Intelligence)… but not because of its language skills but rather because of a big naked Terminator saying, “Your clothes; give them to me now!” It just plays over and over and over in my mind, nightmare-llike. scary stuff. Look!
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=x3pu25Eroi4

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