How Spanish changed my life
When I first arrived in Valencia to teach English in 2009, I had taken 4 weeks of evening class. I think it’s fair to say I didn’t have a clue. When my parents came over to visit me after about a month of living there, I asked someone for directions to a restaurant, and pretended to understand them! We spent about half an hour wondering around getting lost before I gave in and we went somewhere else.
Progress in Spanish was neither quick nor slow, and it certainly wasn’t steady. Week after week, month after month, I carried on doing whatever I could to improve my Spanish. Everyone should find ways of learning that work for them – I memorised verb tables, wrote out hundreds of vocabulary flashcards, read Spanish books, went to Spanish classes, met Spanish speakers for “intercambios”, listened to podcasts, and did whatever I could.
I wasn’t following any particular methodology, just trying to live my new found passion for the language. Maybe I could have learned quicker if I had the latest gizmo app, or if I took approach A over approach B. I didn’t really think about these things. I just had a love for the culture, a love for the language, and a deep desire to learn it. That was all I needed – everything else took care of itself.
There never came a point when a light bulb switched on and I found I could effortlessly express myself in Spanish. However, bit by bit, in my conversations I slowly realised that I was having to think less and less, and the words and phrases were coming to me more quickly and seamlessly. I found myself connecting the dots. I forgot whether I was speaking in English or Spanish, and I worried more about what I was saying than how I was saying it. I still made (and make) errors, but these didn’t get in the way of me saying what I wanted to. Instead of saying “become fluent”, I now prefer to say “become comfortable”, as that’s more how it feels.
A new world slowly opened
Lifelong friends and relationships, built using Spanish. I know I wouldn’t have ever met or been friends with these people if I couldn’t speak their language, and thanks to this I gained access to their lives, cultures, customs, and company. That was worth it in itself.
I love the feeling of getting off the plane in Spain, feeling the Mediterranean sun on my face, smelling that first breakfast of “jamón”, tomatoes, and olive oil on bread, and hearing the earthy sounds of the Spanish pronunciation. I feel like I’ve come home after being away. It’s the same when I go to Colombia, and feel the hustle and bustle of Bogotá, and the vibrancy of Colombia’s culture and people. There are so many other places to explore, and I know that I’ll be able to navigate my way around in a way that non-Spanish speakers can’t.
Whether it’s Spanish music, Colombian politics, Spanish literature, poetry, films, and everything and anything else, a cultural universe has opened up to me. I feel like the world has become more colourful as a result
I’ve found the people I’ve met have inspired me. In our podcasts, we’ve interviewed people from Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Cuba, and the list is expanding. Each has a varied background, and their own fascinating stories to tell, whether good or bad.
I’m telling you all of this not because I want to boast or discourage you, but to let you know that everything I’ve talked about is accessible to anyone who wants it enough. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it a thousand times over! Hopefully my experience strikes a chord with you, and I really hope it encourages you to continue your love of Spanish, whatever your level might be!
What has Spanish meant for you? Let us know in the comments below!