My Language Learning Journey

This past school year, I decided to take a leap of faith and officially declare Spanish as a second major. Having taken it all throughout high school, and as a prospective immigration lawyer, achieving fluency seemed like the natural next step in my educational journey. Plus, it's fun to imagine myself conversing in another language or actually comprehending Spanish radio hits.

However, college-level classes are an entirely different beast than high school lessons. The more that I learn about Spanish, the more I realize how much farther I have to go. I’m learning about grammar forms and tenses that I didn’t even know existed: imperfect subjunctive or conditional perfect, anyone? With English, I picked up these grammar structures naturally as a child, and now I have to put more effort into consciously determining when each one is used. That’s not even to mention irregular endings and gender agreement. It seems that there are a million rules to learn, and that for every rule there are a million exceptions.

It can be incredibly frustrating to feel that you’re making real progress in a language, only to sit and struggle through a more advanced text or region-specific dialogue. Sometimes I doubt that I’ll ever truly achieve fluency. It seems that I’ve reached the language learning plateau, the intermediate stage of language acquisition when progress seems to slow down and each new subject becomes harder to learn.

Despite all of this, if I had to choose to study Spanish again, I would in a heartbeat. Why? Well, for starters, I feel that it has made me a more empathetic person. To everyone out there learning a foreign language: I see you and I respect you. Nothing about this is easy, and I’ve had the luxury of learning in a supportive classroom rather than in a hectic real world environment. Immigrants, ESOL students, and other bilingual babes are absolutely incredible.

Additionally, learning Spanish has consistently forced me to step out of my comfort zone. The only true way to learn a new language is to accept that you will make mistakes, and often. I wrote an entire essay last year about a murderous grocer - but confused the word for shopkeeper (tendero) with the word for fork (tenedor) and ended up writing two pages about an extremely violent piece of silverware. Being able to laugh at yourself is one of the most important parts of the process. Although I get nervous when it comes to conversing with actual Spanish speakers, I’ve come to realize that even if people make gentle jokes at your expense, they ultimately want to see you succeed.

Embarrassment won’t get you anywhere, so you shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself out there and learn! I would encourage each and every one of you to do something that challenges you, whether it’s learning to speak Russian or play the guitar. The most difficult things can add the most perspective and meaning to our lives, and it’s never too late to try something new.