I’ve been on quite a journey to learn Spanish.
I’ve been learning Spanish since I was in the 1st grade. 20+ years later, I found myself stepping off the plane in Madrid with infantile communication skills. I was able to express myself to a certain extent, but I couldn’t understand anything being said to me. I once fancied myself a competent Spanish speaker because I knew how to ask for the bathroom, the location of the library, and the time. Who was I kidding?
Coming to live in Spain was a humbling experience. It wasn’t the same as when I lived in Thailand. In Thailand, I expected to be completely out of my element. I knew that I had no concept or grasp of the language, so it made the adjustment easier for me. I expected to be functional in Spain.
Success is a byproduct of expectations, and because my expectations were relatively high, I felt like a colossal failure. I avoided social situations and tried my best to speak in short sentences. When I wasn’t working, I stayed in my apartment using Duolingo because I saw no point in frustrating myself at the local bar with co-workers who spoke Spanish at lightspeed.
At the time of writing this, I’ve been living in Spain for just over 2 years, and I’m still not fluent. I am much more confident and capable of handling myself in a variety of situations. I can speak at a much higher level than I can comprehend, which most people find weird, so I’m focusing on improving my comprehension.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my time in Spain:
- Don’t focus on grammar! It’s more important that you can communicate effectively than it is for you to have perfect grammar. Most people make the same mistake I did and dive right into grammar. They ultimately make the learning process harder. I would stay away from nonessential grammar lessons until you are conversational in Spanish (or any language).
- Don’t compare your language skills to the other foreigners. Another mistake I made was judging my progress by that of my peers. Big mistake! You don’t know how much Spanish your counterparts studied before arriving in Spain and you can’t discount the fact that some people learn faster than others. You’ll learn the language in your own time.
- If possible, live with native Spanish speakers and/or make friends with the locals. A lot of people I knew who rapidly advanced in the language credited their respective living situations with their improvement. The human brain is a powerful thing. You’d be amazed at how quickly it will adapt if you place it in an immersive environment. I made a tremendous leap during my first summer in Spain because I spent a ton of time with a friend from Venezuela who spoke no English. We started out communicating like cavemen, but eventually, my brain was forced to tap into Spanish that I didn’t even know was hiding out in there.
- Get over yourself! No one cares if you’re making mistakes and stumbling through the language. They mostly want to see that you’re attempting to communicate with them in their language.
During my journey to learn Spanish, I’ve learned to embrace the chaos, scream into the void, and go on adventures. You don’t have to go to Spain, but I implore you to step out of your comfort zone before you get too comfortable there. Happy Trails!
A Jaded ’80s Baby