I'm Trying to Learn Spanish (Again)

Sunday, November 1, 2020

As a kid, I was obsessed with trying to learn Spanish. I had a book of Spanish words that I carried around with me for an entire summer, & I once convinced my grandmother to consider taking me to Mexico in lieu of having a bat mitzvah. (She didn't come through on this one, but I tried.) (Also, when I was young, I thought that Mexico was the only place where people spoke Spanish. Imagine my surprise & delight when I learned about Spain & allll of Latin America!)

I took Spanish in both middle school & high school, & for awhile, I even wanted to be a translator of some sort, or maybe teach ESL. My freshman year of high school, when my mom & I welcomed a Peruvian exchange student into our home, I was proud to discover that my choppy freshman-year-of-high-school Spanish was enough for us to communicate un poquito, enough for me to understand the book he brought with him to teach us, his host family about his home city.

Somewhere along the way, though, my drive fell: I struggled with conjugating verbs, & after my two requisite college Spanish classes, my commitment waned, even if my interest never did.

I settled into never knowing more than the basics, which were, at least, enough for me to communicate, however minimally, with Paolo's mother, who spoke no English, when she answered their home phone.

When my family & I visited Peru in 2016, I was surprised to find how many Spanish I still knew – how much of it was still rattling around in the back of my brain after all those years dormant. I could ask how much things cost & understand the answer; I could order my coffee to my liking; I could request directions to the bathroom & actually know how to get there.

Recently, I’ve been watching Fear the Walking Dead, which is about 1/3 conducted in Spanish –something I think is really cool for a popular American TV show to do. So many Americans are bilingual, & this show's unapologetic embrace of Spanish-only storylines & cast members is a small but important means of normalizing the Spanish language on prime-time TV. 

It’s gotten me interested again, & it’s reminded me that I really want to someday be able to speak full sentences to my sweet Spanish-Peruvian nephew... so I’ve started using Duolingo Plus to try to learn Spanish (again).

I'm doing 15–60 minutes a day to start, whatever I have time for & interest in. Because the app is set up to gamify language learning, I find myself wanting to keep going, wanting to learn more & go further & do better. I'm surprised, too, by how much I already know, how much I remember, & how quickly I've been able to knock out the first two dozen or so lessons because it's all already stored someplace in the recesses of my brain.

I'm impatient. Learning a new language is slow, much slower than actual iPhone app games, which means I can only go so far so fast. I’m already tired of the repetition of small, simple sentences like “The girl eats the apple” & “Do you use the computer?” But I’m trying to remind myself that knowing how to say “My mother’s purple suitcase is still at the hotel, can you help?” once saved the day on our trip to Peru – when my brain somehow pulled together the phrase "maleta purpura" after a decade of not even trying to speak Spanish. 

A lot of it is in there somewhere, & what isn't, I'll learn... in time. The fact that all of those old words are still rattling around in the depths of my mind makes me hopeful that I will, ultimately, be able to learn enough Spanish to communicate effectively, or to understand Fear the Walking Dead sans captions, or to write a short letter to my nephew. 

In the meantime, I'm working through it all, slowly but surely., & I'm surprisingly excited about it & proud of myself for it. You're never too old a dog to learn some new tricks, huh?

If you have suggestions for learning a new language in adulthood, or for TV shows I could watch or children's books I could read to try to better my Spanish, please comment & let me know!

1 comment:

  1. Learning another language is so good. I have been trying to learn Spanish on and of since 2013 when I went to see my husbands relatives in the DR and was not able to communicate much with older people. I found that was a but sad. However it is really hard to learn a new language. I also use the Duolingo app. And I totally get the annoyance of repeating again and again – but it really does work. Those "boring" sentences are the once I keep remembering. I am having a hard time remembering all the emotions. If you ever find a good children's book to learn Spanish let me know. I am also looking for one. Good luck and more patience to keep on learning.


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