This comes up for English language learners who report a frustrating limbo period as they become proficient in a new language during which they can make themselves understood but they don't always sound smart in it in the way they want to — or funny, or kind, or even just socially assured. They'll gain more control over the way they sound as their English improves, but never be exactly themselves. Their personality in the second language changes in ways they can't control.
At the extreme end of the spectrum writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and Julia Alvarez harness the power of a fresh personality when writing translingually. But most of us find that the appearance of an awkward second self gets in the way as we struggle to act like the person we have always been.
Getting tripped up by words we may understand but don't really feel are "ours" happens for native English speakers as well. When switching milieu in any way, whether by moving, changing jobs, even spending time with a family you weren't raised in, you often will encounter a new vocabulary you don't yet feel comfortable using because, again in the manner of clothing, it "isn't you."
Speaking to The New York Times about her mentoring of women in her Boston-based restaurant empire, chef Barbara Lynch (pictured above with mentee Kristen Kish) articulated this discomfort very clearly.
“What am I doing here?” she asked recently, before speaking on a panel that included Kerry Healey, the first woman to be president of Babson College, and Carmen Ortiz, the first female U.S. attorney for the state of Massachusetts. “All Ph.D.’s? All college? I’m from a housing project. I didn’t go to school. I’m afraid to talk, because I don’t talk like that.”
So what should Lynch, and anyone else looking to take ownership of words, do? Dive into Vocabulary.com, of course. Here's why:
First off, we don't just tell you the definition of the words you're learning, we describe their ins and out in plain English. And we give you loads of context examples to help you get a feel for the word in your ear.
Then we teach the word to you slowly and gradually, sticking with you through trouble spots, and spacing out our questions to mimic the way, in the real world, you forget and then remember new words all over again.
And finally, we let you pick the words you want to learn. Use the learn button on the word pages in our Dictionary to add words to your Vocabulary.com play or add an entire list with the "Learn" button on that list's main page.
Pretty soon you'll be rocking those unfamiliar words just like those white platform sneakers that were sitting in the back of your closet until you came around to the idea that they actually do belong to you.
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