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.
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.
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?
I am a foreigner in my class (non-English speaker surrounded by English speakers, however)! I wonder many times what would all the techniques be called in Estonian, my native language. My BJJ experience has been only in English but hopefully one day I can travel back home and visit a local gym to experience BJJ in Estonian 🙂
@Julia: Not yet, but I’m hoping to get in some more training abroad once I pick up a ripstop gi, and go on holiday somewhere for longer than a few days. Or go on holiday somewhere on my own (meaning my gf wouldn’t have to find something else to do while I trained), but I’m not fond of doing that (unless there are people I know at the other end willing to put me up, like when I’ve been on training trips to Belfast).
I have definitely been sat there not fully understanding what people are saying many, many times, however, as I’ve got a Turkish and German ethnic background. I have enough German to get by, so I can just about follow the conversation with that group of relatives, but my Turkish is atrocious. I can remember conversations with my grandmother involved a lot of sign language: she was incredibly chatty, so she didn’t see someone not speaking her language as a major barrier to communication. 😉
@Triin: The SBG Estonia guys seem pretty cool, judging by their videos. I also really like their non-macho take on the BJJ logo.
The logo is funny!
Well, @slidey, you’re always welcome to come here to Korea to train! 🙂 I’d host you! Or if you’d like there is an active Couchsurfing community here.
@Julia: If I’m ever in Korea, I will definitely take you up on that! I enjoyed the bits of Asia I’ve seen, so it would be cool to go back some time. Korea and Japan are high on my list, as I’ve not been to either yet. 🙂
Triin, I knew that you were a non-native English speaker, but it wasn’t in my active mind. 🙂 I’m excited to some day go back and learn in English and I wonder what the experience would be like.
@slideyfoot is right! The SBG Estonia looks awesome! Are they anywhere near where you’re from? How often do you make it back to Estonia?
Several of my teachers are Brazilian natives, and they have pretty thick accents. It was really hard for me to understand the teacher when I first got there. Your first few months are the hardest ANYWAY, even without the extra challenge of not being able to understand the teacher very well. After a while, I got used to the accent, and it was better. Our newest teacher still has trouble with the English. He mimes things a lot. Sometimes he will say “knee” when he means “elbow” and stuff like that. He’s learning fast, but it’s still hard sometimes. I once had to have a really emotionally charged conversation with him, and I just couldn’t make myself understood, which was very difficult.
There are enough Brazilian natives in the class that there are often lively conversations going on in Portuguese. You really wonder what they’re saying, especially when they are busting a a gut laughing! It can also be frustrating when you’re rolling with one of them, and the Brazilian teacher is cornering your opponent in Portuguese so that you can’t understand what they’re saying!
Yeah–starting from day 1 all my instructions have been in Korean. To be honest, BJJ is a foreign language all in itself. I remember on the first day an American told me “Okay, now pass the guard” and I said “I don’t know what any of that means!” He couldn’t translate from BJJ speak to non-BJJ speak 😀
Hi 🙂 First i’d like to say that you have an amazing blog, i just found it and already read 10 posts in a row, about two hours reading it, and everything you write seems interesting and cool!
I’m brazilian, and i’ve been training BJJ for almost 3 years now, i’m a blue belt and i’ve only trained with brazilian teachers by now, but i’ve helped about 15 finnish guys that came to Brazil to spend few months with us.
By talking to them, i’ve seem no big problem to them on understanding what teacher was asking them to do, or how positions works and everything about technichal aspects. But they clearly couldn’t get our jokes, and all other subjects we talk during the class.
I’ve learned many things by listening people talking to each other, in this terms being a foreigner will lose some of the bjj experience.
(hope i made myself clear, bad english)
Thank you so much! Welcome to my little hole in the net 🙂
Your English is great, by the way!
I appreciate your feedback. It’s really great that you’re helping out those foreigners. I REALLY appreciate when the Koreans help me out. REALLY appreciate it. Especially the one other gal in the class, who will grab me to be my partner. It’s nice to feel INCLUDED.
I grew up a few blocks from the University of Southern Mississippi. They have a strong ESL (English as a Second Language) program and International Studies program. I went to school with many children from around the world. So, I grew up hearing many languages and never thought anything of it. My only regret is that I didn’t get them to teach me their language.
I now live in Houston, TX, it is considered to be an international city due to the large population of foreign born persons. I frequently work with non English speaking persons, and have become fairly competent communicating in some way. I see the frustration they have when unable to communnicate effectively. I make an effort to speak as much of their language as I can. I also make an effort to learn at least one word in their language.
As for as BJJ, my instructor is an American who also happens to be tri-lingual. He speaks English, Spanish (the most common foreign language here), and Portuguese. He will translate if needed.
When I studied Karate, I was required to learn some Japanese. Then I studied Tae Kwon Do, and was required to learn some Korean. I’ve also studied Spanish and French. However, it doesn’t seem to stick with me. But I do try to learn, and I do try to make others feel welcome and comfortable.
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