BIOGRAPHY – My Journey
I am not a naturally gifted speaker but I am someone who has worked extremely hard to get where I am today. I consider speech to be both my greatest weakness and my biggest strength in life. When I was a child mutism was a big issue for me; I couldn’t talk even if I wanted to in situations where I felt uncomfortable or shy. In fact, I do still suffer from mutism, but improving my speaking skills as a result of making over 500 YouTube videos and changing my lifestyle in ways that suit my introverted personality means that it happens much less often nowadays.
Speaking for me is full of contradictions: in some situations I close up like a clam and can’t say a word, and in other situations I can’t shut up! At school I always sat at the front of the class and put my hand up for every question, and at university I happily engaged in debates with lecturers and students alike, often dominating seminars with my outspoken opinions (I graduated with a First Class degree in English Literature). Another contradiction: while I can give a spontaneous talk lasting an hour to a crowd of 200 people with relative ease, I sometimes feel painfully awkward when saying ‘thank you’ to a cashier in a shop.
The English language and its words have always been an imaginative escape for me. When I was little I would even get absorbed reading the back of the shampoo bottle while having a bath: ‘Aqua, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate…’. Another fixation I had at around ten years old was reading every entry in my giant Oxford English Dictionary until I finished it.
My fascination with the English language began with reading words, though over time this has changed into the sounds of words and voices speaking words. The sounds of speech, word choice, the presence or absence of vocal ticks and the position of a person’s voice is something that to me carries layers upon layers of normally hidden information. When I hear a voice now, I can peer into a person’s psychology, like an x-ray machine. However, I limit those kinds of observations as doing so and talking about what I find is snooping and boundary violation, unless I have been specifically asked to read a person in that way.
A big failure for me is that so far my talent for language does not extend to actually speaking any foreign languages beyond the basics. While my ear can quickly pick up a language when it comes to understanding what is going on, my tongue is frozen unless I am completely comfortable. I lived in Turkey for two and a half years and during that time I can only recall one conversation where I felt comfortable enough that I let go and actually spoke Turkish, absolutely astounding myself that I could speak the language, for once! The rest of the time either my mind was blank or I would awkwardly deflect attempts at conversation with short, automatic answers. Before living in Turkey I did encounter instances of foreign language mutism in myself but it was definitely not on such an impossible and frustrating level. If there can be any positives to take away from this experience of personal failure, I know how to make people who have a tendency to mutism when speaking English comfortable and how to get them speaking when normally they can’t say a word. When this has happened in the past it has been immensely fulfilling to give another person the gift of speech over mutism. It’s a wonderful gift and I wish I could give it to myself so I could speak foreign languages too!
In terms of my own voice and speaking skills, this is something that continues to evolve. Whereas I used to be motivated to eliminate my personal speech difficulties so I did not have to face them anymore, now I am much more accepting of what makes my own speech unique. This is also shown in that nowadays I am much more compelled towards being authentic rather than perfect in the way that I present myself in videos. My view is that with persistence speech difficulties can be overcome and triumphed over, though not all of the battles we face are worth the strain of a long, hard fight. So I recommend that you choose your battles wisely.
And lastly, I hope that as a teacher I fill you with knowledge, make you think, and give you inspiration to speak.