I’ve taken a number of semesters of Spanish. In middle school, high school, and university, I took at least two classes in each that taught me the absolute basics in Spanish, and I was often one of the more successful students.
But it was as if none of those years ever happened once I started my flight to Spain.
I was flying by myself to live with strangers in a foreign country for a month. I was nervous, freaking out to the point where I could not remember a single word. I could not understand a single phrase of Spanish. I could not even fathom speaking with my host mother, who could not speak English. My roommate, who has family from Mexico, was the only voice who could express any thought between us. I couldn’t bring myself to speak around my house mother, even in English, because I felt somewhat ashamed of not being able to speak this language that I thought for sure I had at least some knowledge in.
One reason that I came to Spain was so I can get a better understanding of the language, just short of mastery. I would immerse myself into it and learn to speak it at a conversational pace and then one day be able to start learning a completely new language afterwards. At that moment, however, it felt as though my dream would never happen. That I would never be able to learn this language that I worked so hard to learn in my classes. Slowly, however, the words came back to me.
I can’t remember when and where the words started coming back. Elementary phrases started to make sense when spoken slowly and one day I could answer questions with my own broken Spanish. I could understand what was being told without the need of a translator. Our Spanish lessons began and I found that being in the basic class was annoying since I already knew what we were being taught. I switched to become the worst student in the intermediate class that was taught in Spanish, but I was happy to be able to learn, even if I couldn’t understand every word. I was mentally translating the signs that I passed on the street and books on the shelves. I’ve even recently bought a copy of La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafón in order to learn more vocabulary.
In many situations like at a restaurant or meeting new people, I still panic and can’t remember most of what I know of Spanish. But as long as I can keep calm, I can speak it to an understandable extent.
It took me one week to remember what I knew and I can’t wait to see what three weeks will teach me!