A little over a year ago, I started learning Spanish again. I took the language in high school many years ago. I liked it, but it didn’t seem very useful in Sioux Falls, SD in the 1980’s.
But then in my early 30’s, my husband and I moved to California and suddenly, Spanish speakers were everywhere. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. My high school Spanish was long gone. I hated being on the outside and looking in. What are they talking about? Now that I had a reason to, I wanted to learn the language.
I did some half-hearted searching for classes but couldn’t find anything that was the right fit. I signed up for some audio programs, but always ran into phrases or verb forms that I didn’t understand and I’d give up. I even hired a tutor one summer, but this fizzled out. Years passed. I still didn’t know Spanish.
Not a Mid-life Crisis
As I was turning 50, my husband asked me, “What would your ideal life look like?” I thought about it and realized that I wouldn’t change much. But there were two things that were missing: I wanted to join a certain health club and also learn español.
That’s it? That’s all that stood between me and my ideal life? I didn’t need a new car, a new husband, therapy or even a new dog. This seemed laughably easy and oh-so-fixable. I got to work.
Joining the health club was simple. The only reason I hadn’t joined before was that I was being too frugal, a common affliction for many of us who grew up in the Northern Plains.
After that, I did some searching online and found an adult Spanish language program. The instructor provided weekly, private lessons. His online reviews were glowing. I contacted him and soon thereafter, we got started.
At our first lesson, I quickly realized that while I still thought I knew just a tiny bit of Spanish from high school, I really didn’t. I couldn’t say much; I was a rank beginner. And not being able to communicate ideas was a weird feeling. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but nothing would come out. My lips were sealed with duct tape.
Fortunately, my instructor, Luis, made our beginning sessions interesting and helped me relax. He said that the important thing when learning a new language was to communicate ideas and that even if what I said wasn’t perfect, if I could get an idea across, then I was communicating. That was success. You mean, I could flail away, throw out words that may or may not make sense and feel good about it? Yes. In fact, that would be how I would learn. Okay. I felt relieved. Maybe I could do this after all.
Luis and I began meeting every week for two hours. He’s a gem of a teacher. He finds ways to tie Spanish into my interests. And his genuine enthusiasm and encouragement keep me motivated.
Spanish Seeps Into My Life
Even while I started to improve, my lessons were exhausting. I knew so little and was straining so hard to make sense of what was going on. Our classes had become virtual because of the pandemic and Zoom added another layer of fatigue. After class, I’d need to lie down for a short siesta because my brain was so tired.
Slowly, but surely, Spanish began to seep into my life and get a little easier. This happened not just during the day, but at night too. I’d often lie in bed and Spanish words would scroll through my head continuously. I usually didn’t even know what they meant, but the words kept coming. It felt like my brain was short-circuiting. I had to tell myself that it was time to stop thinking and go to sleep.
Thankfully, Luis’s encouragement helps keep me motivated. When I use a new verb form or phrase in our conversations, he nods, smiles and almost jumps up and down with excitement. I love trying out something new and having him notice it. Sometimes I will know the right word for something and have no idea where it came from. How can this be? It feels like magic. The tape is coming off my mouth.
And so I continue to plug away. Friends ask me if I’m good at Spanish. Nope, not even close. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the process of learning that counts. And unexpectedly, I’m becoming friends with a number of Spanish speakers that I see in my neighborhood. They are kind enough to practice Spanish with me. I will write about them in my next post.
Is there something new that you’ve been wanting to try? If you can, do it! It makes life exciting and fun. And the rewards might be even greater than you’d expect.