Te Karaehe Tuatahi – the First Class

This week I started a new (full immersion) Māori course at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. It was really great, although I did feel awful throughout almost the whole class.

Wait, what?

Let me explain then. The class was great, but my anxiety and introvertism made it quite difficult. I felt like I wanted to cry for most of the first half, interspersed by wanting to throw up. Then I was distracted for a while by food. Then we had to introduce ourselves to a person, have a wee chat, then do it all again with the next person, about 8 times. I stopped being able to do small talk and facial expressions, and became so exhausted I was nearly crying again. Problems seemed insurmountable. I was nearly panicking. I cried as soon as I made it to the car, and at home. For the next 2 days, I was exhausted and my body was sore all over, and I think it was just from the stress.

Why mention all this? Well, I feel like most people don’t understand the kind of toll an intense class like a language immersion class can have on some people, especially with strangers and an unknown teacher. Granted, this was a 3-hour class, but I only just managed to make it out of the building before bursting into tears, and I have no idea what kind of crazy person I sounded like at the end when I was trying to talk to the teacher about not having a skirt to wear to the powhiri on Friday. My brain had entirely stopped working by that point and I was kind of irrational. I felt bad. I felt like an idiot. I’m glad I wrote “anxiety” under medical conditions, and I hope the kaiako (teacher) reads that.

But… the class was GREAT! O-M-G. Just being in a class where most of the people are more-or-less the same level as me was amazing – rather than having half or more of the students already fully conversant or fluent. There were only a couple of significantly better speakers, and they were at opposite sides of the room (not talking to each other) so every conversation around me was in the same halting, grammatically incorrect Māori that I speak and understand. Not only that, there were 1 or 2 people who were noticeably worse than me – I was confusing THEM. I’ll have to practice being a more understanding conversational partner because I’m not used to that!

The exercise I found ridiculously exhausting was also actually great too. We had to all line up and ask the person opposite us – where they are from, what their job is and what is their favourite food. Then, after a bit, we move along and repeat with another partner. With a bit of Māori under our belts we were able to accomplish these basic tasks quite easily – which meant we could then expand on them and have a real conversation. So the questions got us started, and were within everyone’s grasp so nobody was left completely floundering, but we could challenge ourselves by asking questions or elaborating. It was really great practice at speaking, let us get to know each other a bit more, and ended up being at just the right level.

So those are the main highlights of my first class. It seems weird to say that something that made you cry was great, but really the quality and experience of the class is separate from my stress reaction. It’s just a shame that I couldn’t have experienced it without that, because how awesome would that have been!? But overall I feel positive about the class, and it will be a lot easier when everyone isn’t a stranger. Now, I just have to get through the noho rūmaki this weekend – an immersion stay on the marae from Friday evening through to Sunday lunchtime. Auē! Wish me luck!

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4 thoughts on “Te Karaehe Tuatahi – the First Class

  1. Such a truthful reflection on the rollercoaster that is language learner. An important insight that will be useful for both anxiety sufferers and language learners alike. Kia kaha, e hoa xx

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  2. It’s actually really encouraging to read that someone else has those feelings you describe. The times of crying in the toilet because it was just so overwhelming – the utter helplessness and inability to make sense of what was happening or make sense of what was coming from me. I look forward to more reflections.

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