Born to a Costa Rican mother and New Jersey-native father in Pennsylvania, it made sense that English was my first language. After all, my father did not speak Spanish, and, although it was my mother’s second language, she had been learning English for well over ten years by the time I was born.
My mom never shied away from teaching me about our Costa Rica culture, and part of that included the Spanish language. As a child, I resisted learning in every way. I’d tell my mom I didn’t understand what she was saying in Spanish out of sheer frustration. Eventually, as I grew up and started elementary school, Spanish was put on the back burner.
It didn’t really matter that I didn’t understand, at first. When my mom spoke it, I was oblivious, in my own world. The only time it did matter was when my family laughed at my attempts to speak the little bits and pieces of Spanish that I knew. Then, I felt the warmth rush to my cheeks and embarrassment over our lack of ability to communicate with one another. I resented being la gringa, something I can now laugh at. I really only faced my inability to speak Spanish while visiting family in Costa Rica, and it was quite easy to forget this frustration once I was back in the comfort of my English-speaking home country.
I became determined to learn Spanish as a second language when I was sixteen years old. That is its own story, one that I have already written. I will say, I knew it would not be easy. Six years later, now considering myself fluent, it still presents its challenges. For example, when I tell my husband (a native Spanish speaker,) that I am simply smarter in English because I have the vocabulary to express myself in depth.
It’s not truly that I am smarter in English, of course. There is no such thing, in my opinion. The ability to acquire vocabulary and language fluency does not occur overnight. Navigating speaking- and continuing to learn- a second language should be faced with grace, not resentment. For example, instead of resenting the boundaries of vocabulary deficits, I try to treat myself with grace by looking at how much my Spanish vocabulary has grown over the past several years.
Another challenge presented with learning a second language for myself is the accent. While it certainly is possible to improve pronunciation, I had to accept that I will simply always have an accent when I speak Spanish. And that’s okay. My mother will always have an accent when she speaks English, but that does not mean she cannot speak it fluently. This realization allowed me to accept my own accent, something I had to learn was not a fault. And who knows, perhaps one day I will be able to roll my R’s.
Learning a second language is a huge accomplishment. One that should not be diminished by the ongoing challenges of navigating that language. Having an accent, not knowing how to express your thoughts from time to time, every little frustration is totally normal and does not negate all the work put into coming to this point. Whether you have just started your second language journey or are six years into it, stop and look at how far you have come. Recognize all the doors a second language has opened for you and know that this will only continue as you develop your skills!