Who are you?
Who are you, reading this? You’re someone who knows some basic Spanish. You don’t need to speak Spanish for your job and you already have a busy life, but you’d like to be able to enjoy what you know. Every so often, you resolve to study seriously. Meanwhile you seldom dare to attempt a conversation in Spanish; you seldom feel confident using it. You feel frozen at a low level of competence. You no longer expect to break through to real enjoyment of your Spanish.
You can lift yourself to another level simply by being bold with the Spanish you have right now. You’ll improve. You’ll be thrilled to watch yourself communicate in another language. That will energize you to keep trying. You’ll begin to feel comfortable in Spanish-speaking situations.
How do I know? Who am I?
I’ve been learning Spanish for forty years, and the most important thing I’ve learned is to get out there with my bad Spanish.
About now, you’re thinking, “Forty years! She must be good.” Well, yes and no. It’s always a work in progress. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the jokes or feel at ease in a group of native-speakers. It’s too late to improve my flat gringa accent. However, I can read Spanish almost as well as I read English, I can communicate in any conversation, and I’m proud that, along the way, I earned a master’s degree in Spanish literature.
I’m always working on it, in one way or another. So many times I’ve made resolutions for a study schedule. Who am I kidding? I know myself from way back. I know I won’t stick to it, and I’ll feel even more discouraged when I don’t. Much of what I have done is through the back door, so to speak.
It’s often worked for me to commit myself boldly and publicly to a situation where I must speak Spanish, and then when I want to back out, it’s too late. I fool myself into speaking Spanish. Maybe you’re a better person. Maybe a more straightforward approach would work for you, but maybe my own story will give you some new ideas.
I took my first class out of curiosity when I was in my early 30s. I had three children in school, a husband who traveled, and a bit of free time. People who knew another language impressed me as wonderfully intelligent and cosmopolitan. That was my motivation. I was going to be like that.
The first bilingual person I had ever known was the father of my college roommate. A Mexican businessman, he was completely at home in the U.S. He spoke two languages seamlessly. On his visits, he would charm us by cooking dinner. One night he burned his hand, and went right on speaking English as he swore at length and impressively. I definitely wanted to be like that. I needed to start learning.
Ever since that first class, I have persisted, never letting more than a month or so go by without working on my Spanish. Along the way I overcame my timidity and fear. I dared to use my bad Spanish, and, now when someone asks, “¿Habla español?” I reply, “¡Sí!”