“Now I’ve had the time of my life
No, I never felt like this before
Yes I swear it’s the truth
And I owe it all to you.” – Bill Medley, Dirty Dancing
I know what you’re thinking, five hours from now and this song will still be stuck in my head! Yes, I swear it’s the truth. I couldn’t resist. There are times, however, when it is this song that best describes how you truly feel about something fantastic; an experience that really lifted you up and connected you to the world around you. And is there a better way to translate those emotions than with the medium of song and dance, particularly if it’s Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze rocking it out on the dance floor? I shall leave that question rhetorical.
They say that the older you get, the faster time speeds past…life is too short etc. you’ve heard it all before! What are they really saying? (I must remember to finally find out who “they” are) Carpe diem – seize the day, make the most of your time on this planet. Have the time of your life (there’s that song again!). As life gets in the way and bustles all around us, we can often be stumped as how to best have the time of our lives. It was pondering this very dilemma that I stumbled across a beautiful quotation by the late, great Mark Twain. It goes as follows: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
We share our planet with a myriad of cultures, and what better way to enjoy this world than understanding each other. What better way to seize the day than to learn another language?! The very prospect for some of us is quite terrifying, I speak from experience. Speaking German is scary to me, but I live here now so one must muscle through. Plus, I learnt the handy phrase: “Wie geil ist das denn?!” (how cool! – but when directly translated often makes for much mirth amongst English speakers; I shall leave that up to you to find out). It is this phrase that has really won it for me with German friends; it has allowed me to press on with more confidence, I allowed myself to “Sail away from the safe harbour”.
It is these first experiences in a language that allow you to stumble on. At Speakeasy we often find on the first day that some of the class are in this very situation – rabbits in the headlights. I shared with my class the other day what I thought were wise words from my brother. As a polygot linguist I find it hard to believe that he has encountered any nerves when it comes to speaking another language, but he assures me that he has. His simple advice was to embrace the nerves, to even acknowledge them out loud with a strong, “Hello nerves!” I think my new students thought that I was a tad crazy – maybe I am – but the next day they were stronger and more confident.
“I said ‘hello nerves’, this morning”, one of them confided in me, “it works!” Her glee was obvious. Speakeasy offers the space for these experiences. And I think, if not too cheesy, that Mark Twain’s words, “Explore. Dream. Discover” fit perfectly to the ethos of the school. A place where you can truly flee whatever your “safe harbour” might be and find a whole other harbour waiting for you. A place where you are free to dream and discover the wonders of learning a new language and culture. The very same “Hello nerves” student later said to me that what had truly made her language learning special was the mix of people. She was from Chile and had always been in a classroom with only Chileans and being taught by a Chilean. She loved that everyone in the class was of a different nationality and were all there for different reasons.
The experiences that I have had with my classes at Speakeasy have been some of my most rewarding, and I say that genuinely. Being party to a group of friends shouldering each other through what can be very challenging moments for them to come out the other side, faces wet with tears from too much laughing is fantastic! I treasure the stories that they have told me of their encounters with the society around them. Once a place, for them, akin to standing on a bridge getting ready for the bungee but now a place of opportunities and excitement as they explore this culture through their new language. And is this not living in the moment? Making the most of it? Having the time of your life?
As a teacher and student of language I find myself learning from both sides of the fence so to speak. That my experiences are made up of these moments of interaction and communication, that strengthen me, pushing me to seize the day with even greater panache! A lot of these moments and memories, I am pleased to say, have been caught on camera and adorn the Speakeasy walls – snapshots of happy times. And when I think of the things that “they” are wont to say, I feel a true sense that these happy, smiling faces looking back at me, through the polaroid, are in fact truly having the time of their lives.
I feel that I may have started something, the next Speakeasy Instagram story will now inevitably feature all of us making some homage to that 80s cult classic as we dance about the place – watch this space, it’s bound to happen.
And take the leap, sail away from your safe harbour, remembering that if Jennifer Grey had not said hello to her nerves, baby may well have been left in the corner.