When I first moved to San Diego, one of the first things I noticed was the bilingual characteristics of the city being so close to Mexico. I saw many signs in Spanish and Spanish-speaking people everywhere. For the first time, I realized that San Diego meant Saint Diego in Spanish! Duh, that makes sense!
I thought that If I could learn English proficiently enough as my second language, maybe I could figure out Spanish too.
Unlike my ambitious motivation, I had a slow start. I was frustrated that I had no idea what they were discussing over a Spanish-speaking podcast I played in the background. (I thought that listening to Spanish in the background as a language immersion method would magically make me a Spanish speaker.) I glanced through several grammar books to build a structure without worrying about the details or memorizing any of them. It is a valid approach, but not enough.
I memorized several useful phrases and tried to use them at the local farmer’s market. They somehow always answered me in broken English while they spoke fluent Spanish. ‘Nooooo, please speak Spanish to me!’ I must have sounded very foreign. Not to mention that they probably noticed my level zero Spanish.
After getting lost alone in a Spanish learning world for several months, I was getting tired of trying hard for nothing in return.
In the midst of disappointment, I asked myself, ‘Why do you want to learn Spanish?’
I narrowed it down to 3 reasons: 1. I love the challenge of a new language and its stimulation of my brain. That challenge (weirdly) makes me happy. 2. I want to give a concert in a Spanish-speaking country one day, talking on the stage and conversing with an audience afterward. Not memorized phrases, but a real conversation in Spanish. 3. I love gaining a deeper understanding of cultures by learning their languages.
After analyzing my reasons, I noticed that my reasons were about personal growth and connection.
One of the best things I did at that time was finding an instructor to whom I could talk and who would give me some structure. That is when I met my teacher Marco Fierro from Chile, through the language learning website italki. Still to this day after more than 3 years, we meet on Zoom about weekly and talk about life in Spanish. His podcast Latin ELE has also been a great addition to my studies.
I now speak Spanish okay. Traveling through the Spanish-speaking countries wouldn’t be a problem at this point. Can I discuss politics or difficult subjects? Probably not (yet).
This morning I learned a new word ‘la funda de edredón’, meaning duvet cover. With a big sigh of thousands of words I still have to learn, I was here again this morning, jotting the new word into my notebook, repeating the word out loud.
One of the interesting statistics Marco told about was that over years of teaching Spanish in his private class and among his podcast listeners, there are still a majority of beginners and much fewer intermediates.
I asked what happened to those beginners who started every year or month. Don’t they become intermediate at some point?
Apparently not always. Just like a gym membership in January skyrockets and slowly goes down over the year, learning a new language in the long term is a task. They start with enthusiasm and quit for one reason or another sooner than later.
I might not be the most fluent Spanish speaker, but I am proud that I didn’t stop for years. I realize that consistency is harder than learning the language for some people.
What is the key to keeping going for me?
It is to create a system that works, such as learning a word daily or scheduling talking to a teacher and sticking to it. Something small but being able to manage consistently. I feel the good sensation of learning something new every time and not comparing my progress to others. The journey is there for me and only for me. I don’t need to prove anything.
Last week I had an appliance delivered to my house. A couple of guys talked to each other in Spanish, and I understood what they talked about. (Hooray!) I didn’t remark as I didn’t want to disturb their work, but I said, “Muchas gracias por su ayuda” as they were leaving. They probably thought that I had memorized the phrase, which is all I knew in Spanish as they responded enthusiastically, “Thank you!”.
The real joy is truly within.
(If you want to know how I speak Spanish, this video (the link below) is an interview taken several years ago with Marco about why I learned Spanish. Yes, it is all in Spanish!)
Some of you are fluent Spanish speakers. You may speak many other languages and understand the joy of learning languages.
Please share your language learning tip with me!
Que tengan una buena semana, amigos! (Have a wonderful week!)