The Art of Learning a Foreign Language

Although it’s something that’s quite common around the world, I will constantly be in awe of people who can speak more than one language. Since I started studying Spanish when I was 14, and maybe even before that, I have been envious of and fascinated by multi and bilingual speakers. For a long time, one of my goals has been to be able to speak fluently in Spanish, but I’m beginning to worry that I will never accomplish that goal. 

I started studying the language when I was in eighth grade. I am now a junior in college, with 7 Spanish classes under my belt, and currently in my 8th. When I think about how I have been studying a foreign language for seven years now, it seems like a long time, at least a long enough time that I should be somewhat fluent. But in reality, throughout those seven years, my Spanish education consisted of only about 4 hours every week. 

There are children in other countries who grow up learning two languages, sometimes their native language along with English, or sometimes their native language and another foreign language. The American school system does not prioritize this with children, at least from my experiences. I didn’t have the option to take a foreign language class until I was in seventh grade. Throughout middle and high school the only languages offered at my schools were Spanish, French, Latin and Italian. Multiple studies have shown that the later in life you start to learn a new language, the harder it will be, and the less likely you are to become fluent in the language. So, although I have been studying Spanish for almost half of my life, I didn’t start until my early adolescence, which probably hindered my ability from the start. 

I enjoyed Spanish in high school, and because I’ve always wanted to speak another language, I decided to pursue a minor in it at college. While I don’t know what good a combination of an English major with a Spanish minor will do, I know that having at least some knowledge of a foreign language can come in handy. But I have only one more Spanish class required in order to fulfill my minor, and I still feel like I’m lost. I know there are some things I can do that some people who have never studied the language would be able to do. I can conjugate almost any verb in all the possible tenses. I can hold simple conversations. I can recognize basic and sometimes complex vocabulary. But sometimes when listening to others speak, I find I have no idea what they’re saying, or during the time it takes me to figure it out, they have already moved on to the next thing. I can speak confidently only when I’ve had time to think and plan out what I’m going to say in my head, making sure I’m using the right words and the right grammar. It’s hard to imagine getting to the point where my Spanish flows just as smoothly as my English does. 

Even though it frustrates me how far I am from being fluent after studying Spanish all these years, I find a certain joy in being able to apply my knowledge outside of the classroom. Simply being able to understand someone who is speaking Spanish outside of school, or listening to Spanish music and being aware of what the lyrics are saying. Language is such an important way to communicate with others, and I think everyone should strive to know at least one that isn’t their native tongue. I will forever be impressed with people who are multilingual. While I am all too conscious that I’m far from the level I want to be at in knowing the Spanish language, I am so thankful for the little bit of this beautiful language that I do know.