From Shy to Fly: How Language Helped Jackie Conquer Social Anxiety

Meet Jacqueline, a self-published author, blogger and poet and language enthusiast who has turned her language passion into a business and to provide a safe space for other language learners to explore building their conversational skills. Learn more about Jacqueline's journey and how her passion for languages help her overcome some significant challenges like social anxiety and perfectionism as well as her tips for self-learning Japanese and Mandarin in the article below. 

BGLL: Thank you so much for sharing your language learning journey with us. Tell us about yourself.


Jacqueline: My name is Jacqueline Sadberry and I’m an African American from Texas (U.S.A.). I grew up in an English-speaking household. My maternal grandparents spoke Louisiana Creole French, but my mother and her siblings were raised to speak English, so my siblings and I only spoke English growing up. 


I earned my B.A. in English from Prairie View A&M University. I've self-published two books (written 4), and I'm currently working on a novel of poetry (going on 5 years now). Outside of writing (self-published author, a blogger and poet), I have also started my own language conversation service. I work to help people with reaching conversational fluency as well as providing a space for someone to practice speaking with a consistent language partner. I'm currently focusing on Japanese, Spanish and English, but I hope to include more in the future. I'm also an occasional language content creator on Instagram and YouTube.  


BGLL: What languages do you speak? What made you want to learn them?


Jacqueline: I'm a native English speaker. I also speak some Spanish and Japanese (both B1) and a little Mandarin (A1). I'm learning for the love of it and because I refuse to give in to that voice that tells me I can't. Honestly, I think I've always had a passion for languages ever since I was a child, but I didn't realize it until I was in my late 20s. I found myself feeling like a failure, and God had me sit and make a list of all the things I had ever wanted to do. I remember Him saying, "Whether you think you can do it or not, put it on the list." One of those things was learning a language. He had me then write down every language I was interested in learning and then He encouraged me to go after it. I stopped at one point, but I dusted myself off and I've been moving forward ever since.


With most of the languages I'm interested in (I have a VERY long list) it can vary on what attracts me to it. With Japanese I like its complexity; it can be easy and difficult at the same time. It can sound smooth and graceful, and yet sharp and staccato. When I speak Spanish I feel 'friendlier,' more open. It's a fun and energetic language. Mandarin intrigues me because of its difficulty (though if you ask's not really all that hard. It's all about your mindset.) And it's just a dope language in general. If I could, I would probably learn the entire Chinese language family, ha-ha!


BGLL: Japanese and Mandarin are quite intimidating languages for a lot of people. How did you learn them?


Jacqueline: After studying these languages for awhile, I honestly think they get a bad rep. I was hesitant to learn myself because I was so heavily discouraged by all the “that’s a SUPER HARD language” comments. But once I started studying them, I realized that neither language is that hard. Sometimes I find them to be easier than Spanish. Plus there are people who can speak either or both of these languages, and some are fluent. Therefore, you can also do the same if you’re willing to put in the work.


For Japanese, I procrastinated with the syllabary for a month, but once I found out it takes usually a week to master it, I got on it and got it done. I downloaded an app and I went over the syllables in the morning, touching them and saying them out loud one by one. Then at night I would try to see how many I could say without having to look at them. I repeated this until by the end of that week I had them all memorized. Then I started immediately learning grammar and vocabulary (I highly recommend Japanese Ammo—she has an entire playlist for absolute beginners. And Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese was helpful with simplifying the grammar portion.)


Eventually I got tired of not being able to read my notes (I was handwriting them, and without kanji, it can be extremely hard to figure out what word it is.) So I started using Kanji Study and Takoboto Japanese Dictionary to look up words and learn characters: on anime shows, in books I read, tweets, on profiles of native speakers on language apps, etc. And for writing I highly suggest using the Wani Kani method (I use it for Mandarin now because counting strokes is not what that is.) I also love watching Miku’s Real Japanese and Japanese gamers on YouTube.


For Mandarin: I’m relearning this one, but I did something different. I spent more time listening. I did that mostly by watching Chinese shows on YouTube (they’re GREAT because they almost always have subtitles, so you can read along while you listen) and it helped immensely with recognizing tones and pronunciation. I didn’t like Pleco at first, but now it’s essential for my learning. I also practice using Immersive Chinese by reading the sentences out loud and trying to recall the next day sentences I missed. I love Grace Mandarin, Shuo Shuo Chinese and Speak Your Chinese on YouTube—super helpful channels for any level, but especially beginners.


And for both I have found bomb language partners who help me (we chat regularly once a week). I’m drifting away from HelloTalk, but I still think it’s useful for those starting out. I also like Hilokal when I need to practice right away or listen in on a class or chat. Finding podcasts with lively conversations also helped—even if I couldn’t fully understand, I wanted to listen because it sounded fun. Remember to take your time and don’t be in such a hurry; trying to rush can cripple your progress and you’ll spend more time having to fill in gaps. Build your foundation and stay consistent; before you know it, you’ll making sentences, reading stuff—doing all the things.


BGLL: What have been the biggest challenges so far?


JacquelineI had been afraid to approach language partners given my social anxiety. One thing I can't stand is when I hear people say, "Oh don't worry. You'll get over it." You never get over it. You learn to manage it, but it doesn't go away and it certainly doesn't get easier. What I will always say is that your determination has to be greater than your fear. I first started learning Spanish on my own around 2016. and my anxiety got so bad, I deleted the app I was using and didn't study for a month. At that time, I felt so empty...I knew I had a passion for languages, yet my fear was holding me back. 


So after that, I decided I refused to let anxiety run my life anymore because it wasn't just with languages--but I missed out on SEVERAL opportunities to grow and explore because of anxiety. The next few months would be full of ups and downs, a lot of stumbling, but finally in 2017 I decided on learning Japanese and I never looked back. I guess I would say that until you want you to win, then fear will always take over. Start with baby steps (talking to yourself and aim for 5 minutes) and then find a partner who really fits you and is patient--someone who believes in you. And most importantly, you have to believe in you, too. You can have THE BEST language partner in the world, the best resources, etc., and still never meet your goals; unless you believe that you can, you won't. And always remember to take it one day at time.


BGLL: Have you struggled with anything else?


Jacqueline: My hardest struggle, even to this day, has always been perfectionism. It's a language journey and that means we will always be in different places at different times in our lives. I have to remind myself that I'm where I need to be, and one day I'll be where I desire to be, but it's okay if I'm not there right now.


BGLL: If you could offer three tips for someone learning another language. What would they be?


Jacqueline: First, know what you want to do (in other words, have a goal.) and know your why. Even if you're just studying for the love of it, do you want to introduce yourself? Do you want to learn some travel phrases? Know what you want to be able to do in this language and start from there because "I want to be fluent" is a lifelong goal. Start small and work your way up. Second, DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. And STICK WITH IT. If you find a method and it's working, why would you stop doing it? Even if it’s not the "traditfional" thing, and it may not make sense to someone else, but if it's working--KEEP DOING IT

The last thing I would say is: it's okay to say no. You are not obligated to give people all your time and you do not have to put up with someone who is constantly offensive, inconsiderate or continually makes excuses for their ignorance. People are going to challenge you--don't let anyone make you feel small. Keep showing up for you and remember we learn best when we allow ourselves to make mistakes. 


BGLL:  How can we keep up with you on social (social media)?


Jacqueline: You can find me on Instagram (jssberryjssberry_lang and jssberry_poetry) and on YouTube (JSS Media: Languages).

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