The other day I was studying in one of the lounges when I overheard a conversation going on in another lounge. broad I heard sever floormmates of mine speaking about language struggles. Now this is not something one often thinks about when they live in their home country, but as soon as you take a step outside they realize the whole world does not speak the same language.
Sure, we understand that there are more languages than what we speak in our native countries in the world, but we don’t seem to truly understand this until we are placed into the unknown. As I heard this conversation taking place I looked over to one of the girls sitting next to me and asked her what the language barrier was like when she came to America.
The girl I asked is named Sa and she is from China. Sa came to the US when she was about ten years old. She was lucky enough to have come knowing a bit of English. Sa told me it is very normal for young children in China to take English classes. Although, she had some level of English, the level never amount to native speakers. Sa told me about her first days of school and how the kids were very eager to help her along with her teachers. She told me of the times she remembers when she couldn’t really understand questions and she spent a lot of time just smiling and nodding until she could really understand the context of the conversations. I knew exactly what she was talking about. Sa and I actually had a great conversation that night as I shared her struggle as well when I lived abroad in Spain.
I remember my first few days in Spain; everything was so new. As much as I enjoyed my time there, language was always the biggest obstacle. I remember being so tired coming off that plane and arriving to the airport to find my host mother waiting for me. It seemed as if she was talking a million miles an hour at that point. Did I forget everything I had learned in my previous three years of Spanish classes? I don’t think I comprehended a word she said. My first host mother’s name was Chus and I can still remember her looking at me and finally saying to me, in English, “you didn’t understand a word I just said, did you?”. For the whole car ride back to her home we spoke in English.
In the beginning Chus and her husband Fran would speak to me in Spanish and then repeat the phrase in English. This really helped a lot and after awhile they didn’t have to anymore. My first few days I just remember feeling so overwhelmed. Crawling in to bed at night thinking my head was going to explode from information overloads. It didn’t help either that Chus would wake me up in the mornings and just start with full on spitfire Spanish. Yes, you eventually acclimate; things seemed to get easier everyday. Every single day I could look back on the previous and see how much further I had come. Upon meeting new people I struggled with understanding them. Chus would have to paraphrase in words I could understand what they were talking about or just give me a few hints in English. The first phrase I learned in Spanish was ‘poco a poco’ meaning little by little. At the time I felt so frustrated whenever I heard this phrase. I just wanted to know Spanish already! Reflecting back now, I know it was their kind way of saying you will get it. Things take time. Looking back on myself and the level of Spanish I had when I stepped into Spain versus today is truly incredible. That me that stepped into Spain would not be able to believe the level of Spanish I am at today, nor the person that I am today.
❝To have another language is to possess a second soul.❞ ‒Charlemagne
I believe that this is such a great quote because when you are learning a new language whilst in a new culture you are becoming a new person. You may not even know it is happening or how it is affecting you, but it goes on. I know the person I am when I speak Spanish is different than the me who speaks English. It sounds so weird to say, but I think the me who speaks Spanish is the me who was in Spain, the “Spanish Amelia”.