I grew up in Mexico, but I almost didn’t learn Spanish.
(You can listen as you read, if you want!)
I have lived in Mexico since I was 12 years old. (Also, I am not the guy in that photo.)
I am currently 26 years old.
I believe that I’m pretty good at speaking Spanish, however, it took me a LONG time to learn to speak it! I came down without knowing any Spanish, and it took me a quite a few years until I was comfortable speaking Spanish with the locals. I spent many a conversation speaking Spanglish, but mostly, I was just quiet.
It took me so long to learn Spanish, and I have been reflecting on WHY it was so difficult for me to learn it. I’d like to share with you a few of the conclusions I made as to why it was so difficult for me to learn Spanish. I hope that this might help you overcome similar obstacles in your journey towards learning another language!
I was self-conscious.
Do you remember your first words when you were a child?
Probably not, but I’m sure your parents have told you (especially if you said “mama” or “dada” first!)
Did you feel self-conscious when you said those first words?
Again, probably not. More than likely, you were just repeating whatever your mother or father was trying to teach you to say. And after that first word, you learned more words, and more words, and more words. And not once did you feel self-conscious as you learned and practiced these new words!
You probably can see where I’m going with this.
As we learn a new language, we are starting from scratch.
It’s as if we’re babies, as far as our language capacity is concerned. But now we’re acutely aware of our mistakes, and it suddenly becomes much harder to practice or to try to speak this new language.
Please (!) do not feel self-conscious! Whether you are learning in a classroom, or you are currently living in another country, please try to overcome those feelings of being self-conscious. Everyone wants you to succeed!
I grew up extremely self-conscious of how I spoke. I have had a lisp my entire life, which was uncomfortable enough. Add on to that the fact that I’m suddenly in a new country, learning a new language, and I’m almost surprised that I didn’t stop talking altogether! One of my greatest regrets is being embarrassed to speak Spanish with my friends. I missed out on many great opportunities, simply because I was hesitant to practice this language with others.
I was lazy.
You opened this post, you’ve made it half-way through. I hope you give it a heart, maybe even share it if it’s helpful for you! That means you’re not as lazy as I was when I was learning Spanish. But I know that I could have learned so much faster had I applied myself more.
I could argue that I was overwhelmed, that I didn’t even know where to start. But at the end of the day, the problem wasn’t knowing where to start, it was simply not starting. I hope that these words are encouraging you, that they help you overcome whatever it is that’s holding you back.
How do you fight being lazy? I don’t know. There are so many books that have been written, so many lifehacks, so many podcasts created to help overcome our lazy nature… But, many times, we’re still lazy.
Are you less lazy in the mornings? Then try learning that language in the morning. I really don’t have a sure-fire way to beat being lazy, but I know that in order to succeed, you need to learn to beat your laziness!
I didn’t know where to start.
Now, I had a book on learning Spanish; technically, I knew exactly where I needed to start. But I wasn’t convinced that it was the right book, I wasn’t convinced that it was going to work (and I was twelve! I had better things to do, like go on MySpace or Windows Messenger!)
Whether you decide to take an online class, sign up for something like Duolingo, or something else, do your research and decide on starting something. It might not be the PERFECT option, but just decide and stick to it. There are an almost limitless amount of websites and classes and instructors, but just find a place to start and actually start!
Jon Acuff, in his book aptly named “Start”, reminds us:
“You don’t need to go back in time to be awesome; you just have to start right now.”
Start. Right. Now.
Don’t put it off any longer. Sign up for that class. Take the test. Pay the money for the tutor. Do the homework. Just do it (as Nike would say, and hopefully not sue me for saying.)
I didn’t have the right motivation.
Now, this one is just absurd. I lived in Mexico. How much more motivation did I need? But even with the urgency of living in another country, I didn’t take the leap to learn a language.
Not everyone has the same motivation. What’s yours?
Do you need to learn a language in order to finish school?
Do you plan on visiting, or going on a missions trip, or living in another country?
Do you want to win a bet, loser has to get a misspelled word tattooed on his arm? (If you decide on that being your motivation, please send me a picture of the loser’s arm!)
Why do you want to learn another language? With the goal clear in your mind, it will be much easier to stick with it when the speedbumps come.
I was afraid.
Fear and being self-conscious come from the same place. It’s a place of not-knowing how it’s all going to work out. When you start speaking in another language, it’s going to go sideways sometimes. You’ll start out fine, and then you’ll just run out of words, or get totally lost in conversation.
I was so afraid of that happening, so I’d just not even talk unless absolutely necessary. That slowed my learning down a lot. I would have become fluent much earlier had I not let fear win.
Where did that fear take me? Nowhere. It didn’t help me learn a language, it didn’t help me connect with amazing people who I constantly ran into. That fear only stopped me from growing, from improving.
One More Thing…
Learning a language is work, but it’s not a punishment. It is so incredible that God has given us the capacity of learning other languages, speaking and conversing with people that are so different and yet so similar.
If you have the privilege to go to another country, for whatever reason, count it as a BONUS to be able to learn another language. It’s not as easy as sitting down and watching Netflix, but, in the long run, it will be so much more rewarding.
This is my first post regarding life and language in Mexico. If you enjoyed it, you might like my next post, it goes into the MANY positives of learning a second language.