On Self-Acceptance (Re-Learning Swahili with Duolingo, P.2)

If there’s anything harder than accepting your own faults, it’s accepting your own regressions. For those who have lost certain capacities due to injury or illness, the phrase “I used to be able to” holds so much pain. Of course, whether physical or otherwise, we all have lost capacities, and will continue to do so. That’s what being human is — a progress of gaining and losing, growing and shrinking in different ways. To become anything is an active process, and there is no stagnation. Either we rise or we fall — we cannot stay, poised in midair.

The hardest thing about catching yourself from that falling, however, is admitting that you were falling in the first place. To improve, we need to admit fault. We need to admit that we were not as good as we once were. We need to admit that we don’t actually remember that basic vocabulary word, that we don’t know things we used to, that this is harder than we expected it to be. Moreover, the fact that it’s harder than we expected is okay. It’s okay that we’re not as good as we once were — that’s why we’re here, working on it.

Mimi ni mwanafunzi mzuri. I am a good student.
Mimi si mwanafunzi mbaya. I am not a bad student.

There’s a certain peace to be found in starting a Duolingo course from the beginning, especially for a language I already (at one point in my life) knew. It’s a similar feeling to sitting in a classroom full of children, squeezing yourself into a tiny desk, and peering up at the teacher, wide-eyed like you used to do. As children, we were a lot gentler with ourselves. Kindergarteners generally don’t chastise themselves for not being better at math, so I strive to be a kindergartener in my own mind. I experience, I listen, I take satisfaction in the slow and steady progress of moving through this learning, without worrying about how or how fast or why I’m not already better. I allow myself to be excited for small successes — the single vocabulary word I get correct, that difficult sentence that pings green (especially if I thought I got it wrong). The sentences are simple, but they stick.

Patience, kid. You’ve got this. It’s all a process; just keep grinding.

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