Your belly grumbling screaming at you to eat but the nerves freezing every movement you make due to the fear of embarrassing yourself in front of the natives holds true in every moment since I’ve arrived in Taiwan. I have never been more terrified of trying to buy dinner in my entire life. As someone who was assigned in the beginner classes with little ability to speak and hear any mandarin, I can testify that it’s absolutely terrifying the first few times you try to order food. Personally, I love trying new things but forcing yourself to do something out of your comfort zone is no easy task.
After class hot pot gathering
People will tell you to just go out there and try it without considering that for us it’s more than just ‘trying’. It can be almost impossible. When I arrived in Taiwan, everyone was trying to talk to me in mandarin. I would stand there, frozen in fear of messing up every word I said. And there were times before I could even get a word out, the host would speak to me in English instead. That was the absolute worst because it gave me the sense that I failed before I could even try. Unfortunately, that’s common here in Taiwan and possibly any country you visit. It’s not a very good feeling to get used to at all, but there a couple methods I have developed myself that seems to help. It would allow me to focus more on the benefits and how to respond to such a situation without thinking too much on the fear dwelling inside.
The beauty of Taipei
Remind yourself why you came
Now, this can have a lot of different answers, but the main goal we have in common when attending an intensive language program is to improve the language of our choosing. We all came to immerse ourselves and stand up to the challenge in hope to one day become fluent, or as fluent as possible.
When you are faced with the urge to walk away or feel it easier to just order out, take a minute and remind yourself why you traveled to a different country in the first place. It wasn’t to sit in, order take out through an app, and watch a movie or show inside your house; although, sometimes I find that as a way to recuperate. We came to practice and improve the language you are learning. What better way than going out and ordering food!
Take time to read the menu ahead of time or while your there or go with friends and help each other
On the second day, out of quarantine, I went to a wonderful hotpot restaurant with a roommate of mine. He is by far better at speaking and listening in Mandarin than I was. Despite all of that, together we struggled for a solid thirty minutes to read the menu and understand everything on it. Both of us used our phones to look up characters, scan phrases, and look up pictures of specific dishes. When the waiter would come and take our order, we took about 5-8 minutes asking her how to say certain dishes properly before ordering everything. If it was just me, I would be frozen in fear. Having a friend help you and understand your struggle I think is the best way to first get out there. Even if you decide to go out by yourself, every waiter/host I’ve met has been incredibly patient and helpful when I ask how to say certain dishes or ask what exactly they are. [Side note: they also enjoy practicing their English, so even if you ask what it is they would find it fun to explain in English, but try to answer in mandarin.] Once I do that, I attempt to order it. If there is anything, I learned from being here, it’s that Taiwanese people are very patient and understanding when it comes to this. If anything, they enjoy that you’re at least trying.
Result of a 30-minute struggle
Give yourself more credit and encouragement
What I mean by this is taking in the little accomplishments. If it’s ordering for the first time or learning a new word, give yourself a pat on the back. You did something you aren’t normally comfortable with and that’s a huge accomplishment! Just this week, after a week of failing back to back I finally was able to just walk into a restaurant and order something by myself! Granted, it wasn’t the most fluent mandarin, but I was so happy! I turned to my classmate and told them “I actually did it!” You have to appreciate doing the little things to make the bigger accomplishments happen!
I know these little tips can only go so far, but I hope that even one of these will allow you to gain a little more confidence when you are out and about immersing yourself in the beautiful country wherever that may be!