You might think that it’s impossible to learn a new language after a certain age: even with Rosetta Stone, college courses and listening to others speak the language, it can seem an unattainable goal. Not true! It does take dedication, and a real desire to reach your goal, but it is possible. I know because I did it myself!
MY SPANISH LANGUAGE EVOLUTION
When I was in college, I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain. This was a last minute decision, and I was really just tagging along with my already fluent in Spanish friend Michelle. I had basically no background at all in the language, but by the end of our semester abroad, I had started getting comfortable. I was excited to use my Spanish in Miami when I got back! However, quite a few people spoke back to me in English, and this embarrassed me, making me too shy and self-conscious to use Spanish much at all.
Throughout the next few years, I was surrounded by Spanish speaking people in Miami, and then again in Los Angeles. I always listened and spoke when I could, but didn’t really use Spanish in a substantial way. Eventually, I was offered a job in Los Cabos, Mexico, and jumped at the chance! At some point without even realizing it, I lost any insecurity about what I sounded like when I spoke Spanish. Although Los Cabos is pretty Americanized, there are still many people that don’t speak English, and I began speaking in my broken Spanish to some of my work team members, my housekeeper, and in the grocery store. Luckily, they were so encouraging and even corrected me, and my speaking skills slowly began to improve.
Once I moved back to Miami, I continued working in events and spoke to our kitchen staff and various clients in Spanish. This was helpful workwise as well as with maintaining what I had practiced in Cabo. I was loving it and my vocabulary and conversational Spanish grew a bit more.
However, it is in the past few years that I have actually become fluent in Spanish. I got together with my boyfriend (a bit of Our Story!), who is very Mexican 😉 and my quest to learn Spanish went into overdrive.
First of all, although he knows some English, David has only spoken to me in Spanish since the beginning, kind of nicely forcing me to use it. For the first few months, our relationship was long distance, and we video chatted, wrote each other on What’s App and sent emails back and forth, so I was reading and writing Spanish, obviously using the translate app all the time. So I was listening, reading, writing and speaking. When you use the language in all its facets, I think it starts to stick with you more easily.
When I moved to Mexico City, I was immersed in a city where the majority of people don’t speak English. So even when I wasn’t with David, I was out and about on my own and making an effort to communicate all day long. For at least the first six months of living there, by the time six or seven rolled around I was exhausted and didn’t really want to talk to anyone in any language! If we were at an event or large dinner, David just told me to smile and nod so I wouldn’t have to talk. It was a bit overwhelming and intense, as you can imagine. But honestly, anything good is not easy, and now having lived in Mexico for more than two years, I am about 80% fluent and am working, writing emails and can chat in Spanish all day long.
Hopefully, my story and tips & tricks can help you picture what you can see yourself doing to meet your language goal. Below I have highlighted what I think you should keep in mind. I welcome your comments and questions!
WHO CARES WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK?
The best thing to do for your learning process is to drop any self-consciousness or insecurity about what you sound like. It doesn’t matter because every time you use the language you are getting closer to your goal and you can’t get there without using it! Usually, native speakers appreciate the effort you are making, and some even help you along. Honestly, learning a new language is admirable, and shows intelligence and motivation to expand your horizons- you should be proud! Anyone that teases you is silly and should be ashamed of themselves. 🙂
REPETITION IS WHERE ITS AT!
When I reached the point where I was speaking, reading, listening and writing Spanish is when I was really on my way to being fluent. Using it in all capacities; not just pronouncing words, but seeing them spelled out and hearing others say them really drills it into your memory.
Try to think about the way you study most productively for a test. It is usually a combination of writing, reading, speaking and listening to be able to absorb the information, for example: seeing the information projected on a screen and taking notes, and then later copying these notes onto index cards and then reviewing them and saying the answers out loud. Everyone learns in a unique way, and if you apply the method that works for you best to learn a language, you will probably have success.
Whatever it is stick to it, and you will get there!
TIPS & TRICKS TO STIMULATE LEARNING IN DAILY LIFE
-Ask a friend, significant other or family member you text or email with to always write you in the language you are trying to learn and make yourself respond in that language. The process of reading, and then figuring out the translation will help your familiarity with the language. Or ask them to speak to you and you correspond. And yes, that is difficult and perhaps more time consuming, but it will work, I promise!!
-When watching Netflix, keep the subtitles on in the language of choice. Even if you aren’t consciously practicing, you are reading along at least part of the time and some of the words will sink in. Plus you see how the sentences are formed, and words are spelled, as opposed to just hearing them. It helped me so much with my Spanish and I learn new words all the time this way.
-Make a deal with yourself to write down three of the words you learn each day before bed. Just seeing the words and the act of writing them down will help you secure them in your memory, and you will soon have a little dictionary to refer back to.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY
If you have a chance to go on a trip out of the country or are in a place where they speak the language you want to learn, make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to practice. An exciting journey makes learning so much more fun and a lot easier. Even if there is a local person in a store or restaurant, make the effort to speak to them in their language. Every little effort gets you closer to your goal!
One thing that I know hinders your learning is when you depend on someone else to communicate for you in a foreign language. From the beginning, I navigated Mexico City alone, and this forced me to communicate because there was no one else to do that for me. If you are traveling in a country that speaks the language you are trying to learn, step out on your own- volunteer to pick up pastries, grab the taxi or ask for the check. Go and order a round of drinks or talk to the front desk at the hotel. Little by little, this helps you become more comfortable with speaking and you will grasp the language faster this way. Just be brave and have fun with it!
DON’T GIVE UP!
It’s not easy, but its worth it! Be strict with yourself, take note of your progress and engage in what is working for you. GOOD LUCK!!!!! YOU ARE AWESOME!
Featured Photography: Day trip to Taxco, Mexico. Quiet and picturesque, Taxco is a mountainside town about three hours from Mexico City known for its production of silver jewelry and housewares.