Chapter 2: The Way Less Traveled By

Learning a New Language: Not Even Once

I liked learning Spanish.  A lot.

Not because it was easy (it wasn’t).  Maybe because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I’m not a “natural” language learner–if such a thing exists.  Every word I know and every sentence that comes out smoothly when I talk has hundreds, or maybe thousands, of incomprehensible attempts at speaking or moments where I stayed silent and decided to not even try.  My final eleven-page essay with minimal red marks, the paper that my Costa Rican friend asked if I (the gringa) had actually written, sits (figuratively) on top of the first essay I wrote in Costa Rica, which didn’t make the minimum page requirement and is as covered in red as a battlefield.

While I was in my struggling phase, I asked fellow exchange students if they had the option to wake up tomorrow as fluent as a native speaker, would they?  None of them even had to think before they said, “Of course.”

But I wouldn’t.

Fluency in a language (native or foreign) is not something stagnant to be collected.  If a standard Spanish language pack could be uploaded to a human’s brain, it would be something cold and blank.  My Spanish is honed by the literature I’ve read, the personal phrases my friends use, the types of discussions I’m interested in.  My Spanish, like my English, is alive and growing (and shrinking) at different points along the boundary of what I know.

And although my Spanish is a wee-tot language-creature compared to my English, I feel I can say I’m fluent; and I love it.  I love the few seconds before I realize that what I’m reading is in another language.  I love the frustration when I can’t think of an English phrase to express a thought because the thought formed in Spanish and it doesn’t translate well.  I love bending my ear to different accents in the everyday conversations I catch snatches of–and trying to guess where the people are from.  I love the lilt I hear in my own voice that is so different from my English tone.

So, naturally, I’ve decided to start nurturing another baby language-creature.  And then, God willing, I’m going to go to Germany, where everyone speaks 18 languages (an exaggeration, but only slightly), and set it free.


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