My Experience Learning Spanish While Being White AF

Trying to learn a new culture is extremely difficult, especially if you have only known the same one your whole life. While growing up, you think that everyone's family is just like yours. That they eat the same food, communicate the same way, and have the same beliefs as you. Even though you know there are different cultures than yours, it can be genuinely hard to wrap your mind around the idea of how fundamentally different they are. However, it wasn’t until I started dating, and eventually married, a Hispanic person that I realized I never truly knew what practicing another culture entailed. 

I was fully thrust into a world of language, customs, food, and religion that I had little knowledge of. 

Although all these traits are important for the foundation of culture, none are as defining as language. It is a unifying force among people all over the world, that connects them through a single commonality. Spanish is spoken in 20 countries, along with Puerto Rico, so this is a major piece of cultural identity. It’s the second most used language in the United States, making up 13.4% of spoken language.

Since English is my only language, I knew this would be one of the most important things to learn within my husband’s culture. Luckily, I had taken 3 years of Spanish in middle and high school, so I had a basic understanding of the language core. However, this equates to knowing next to nothing when it comes to actually speaking and carrying basic conversations. It’s one thing to read and understand a language, it’s another to speak it. 

Related: Why Hispanic Heritage Month is Important

I desperately wanted to learn Spanish and be able to appreciate the importance and history that comes along with it. I want my future kids to be able to communicate with their grandparents, especially since there is a recent decline of Spanish speakers among Hispanics and Latinos living or born in the US. So, I challenged myself to study and try to become fluent in the language.

I decided to take Spanish courses in college and eventually declared it as my minor. Taking language classes has been extremely helpful in learning about conjugations, grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary that I would have no knowledge of otherwise. I’m forced to practice and improve my skills every week in class, and I have my own personal tutor to help me out when at home (Thanks, babe.) I’ve found that the best way to learn any language is to be constantly practicing, whether you want to or not.

Exposure to native speakers, like my in-laws, on a regular basis has also been a great influence on my ability to understand and keep up with conversations. I am able to listen for keywords and, if I’m feeling confident, form my own sentences. Talking with a native speaker can be extremely intimidating, and it’s something I’ve had to work myself up towards. I am constantly reminding myself that failure is part of learning, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. 

Learning Spanish is still a major struggle for me, but it’s a struggle worth fighting for. I’m nowhere near fluent, but I’m still giving it my all. And I will continue to do so, for myself and for my family. 

If you’re interested in learning a new language this Hispanic Heritage Month, go for it! You can check out what courses George Mason has to offer on the Modern and Classical Languages page. 

It’s never too late to start studying a new language; and if not now, when?