I’ve never had a BJJ class from a native English speaker. My experience has been entirely in Korea, taught by Koreans. Because of this, my experience is much different than others I know in the states–though I only know this by their blogs 🙂 I thought I’d share with you what it’s like to be a foreigner in a BJJ class.

No, I’m not FOREIGNER, I’m *A* foreigner!

Missing out on camaraderie Because I can’t understand what everyone is laughing about, I can’t laugh along. I can’t overhear conversations. I can’t just join in. For me, this has meant having to focus more on jiu jitsu. Sure, the people in my class will speak to me in English, but it’s not their first language, so I tend to have one-on-one conversations rather than large group discussions. It also means that I have to keep my English simplified, and in general jiu jitsu based.

Oh hai!

Building individual relationships Because I miss out on the group dynamic, it’s meant focusing on one-on-one relationships. Getting to know people one at a time and have shorter, individual conversations. Thankfully the one other woman in the class likes me and will grab me for her drilling partner even though I’m 25-30 kilos up on her.

Missing out on feedback Easy enough to get instant feedback from a partner when they speak your language easily. When they don’t, it means you don’t get some of the chit chat you might otherwise, and it means that in general you don’t get a lot of verbal feedback from your rolling partner.

Learning to ask relevant questions Because I don’t always have a translator, it means really having to pay attention to the technique and having to specifically ask to make sure I understand. It’s made me pay attention more.

Having to pay very close attention Again, because I can’t always hear what’s happening, it means I really have to watch everything. Sometimes it means I mime it as the instructor is doing it, and sometimes it means I’m running around to the other side of him. It’s really helped me focus. I can never be sure if he’ll tell me something I already know.

Learning Korean! Yep, I’m learning Korean for “triangle choke,” “turn around,” “stand in a circle,” etc.  It’s Korean for specific purposes, and I find myself motivated to figure out what the instructor is saying, especially since he’ll often say the same things every day.

I do wonder what it would be like to be with a native English speaker and have a class full of all native English speakers. It would be really nice to have more verbal support, but I will admit that my current instructor is VERY good at SHOWING what to do and relying less on words.

Have you ever been The Foreigner? Either studying abroad, or with a non-native English speaker for your teacher? What was your experience like? Did you find you learned more or less? Do you have any non-native speakers in your classes? Do you see a lot of blank stares from them, or lights going off?