Mi Nueva Lengua: My New Language
Abstract: Spanish is my third language, after English and French. Still, learning a new language isn’t a walk in the park. Read about the obstacles I’ve faced, learn how you can help others and discover some tips on how you can learn a new language, too!
“She doesn’t know how to speak Spanish,” my eight-year-old student told a classmate about me, in Spanish. I was standing right in front of him and I understood every word.
“But I’m speaking to you right now, in Spanish,” I answered, confused. It didn’t seem to change his mind.
Learning Spanish is a constant challenge. There are good days when I feel capable of communicating my ideas, understanding the ideas of others and getting around in a foreign culture. Other days are bad days, when people such as my eight-year-old student insist that I can’t speak Spanish at all. People will cringe and stare at me when they hear my accent. I’ll have to repeat myself three times before I’m understood. Also, I’ll have to ask people to repeat themselves over and over before I can grasp what they are saying. Those are my bad days.
After eight months of living abroad, I still have plenty of bad days, but I’ve learned to push through. For example, I’m naturally a shy, self-conscious person. Even in English, I hesitate to speak, especially in front of strangers. I spend a lot of time worrying about what others will think of my ideas. How do you think that makes learning a new language more difficult? Living abroad has taught me the importance of overcoming those fears, and I’ve come up with strategies to help me do so.
One strategy is to write a script in Spanish of what to say before I have to have a conversation on the phone. Also, when meeting someone new, I promise myself to ask a certain number of questions to engage them in conversation. Another strategy is rehearsing conversations in my head or out loud while I walk to work. When words completely fail me, I find other ways to communicate. Miming actions and using body language can be more effective than words sometimes. What kind of strategies do you use to tackle your own shyness? These strategies have helped me grow more courageous with language over time. As I become more courageous, I create more and more opportunities to learn.
I am so thankful for these opportunities because I know how valuable learning a foreign language is. Learning a foreign language has many benefits. Some include improving brain development and helping you get a job in the United States and abroad. As I have grown more confident in Spanish, all of Latin America has opened up to me. I can travel confidently through the entire Spanish-speaking world. I can make new friends from every corner of the globe and learn regional histories from an entirely different perspective.
Knowing Spanish has already allowed me to hear incredible stories I would have missed otherwise. I’ve heard about the experience of undocumented Haitian children living and working in the Dominican Republic. Coworkers have talked to me about their families and struggles to earn a degree. My host family has told me stories about growing up in the countryside in the time when a dictator ruled the country. What kind of things can you learn from hearing these stories in people’s native language?
Moreover, learning Spanish has opened up a wonderful world of literature. Since arriving in Santiago, I have pledged to myself to only read books in Spanish. After returning to the States, I plan to never read a translation of a Spanish novel again. Instead I will always read books in the original language, if I can. What do you think are some of the problems with translating literature? In addition to improving my Spanish, this will introduce me to a whole new world of creative traditions.
Being abroad has also helped me understand one aspect of the immigrant experience in the United States. I studied Spanish for two-and-a-half years before coming to the Dominican Republic. I had a lot of experience with reading and writing in Spanish. Still, it’s often intimidating to speak in a foreign language. I understand the difficulty new immigrants with limited English have trying to communicate in the United States. Trying to speak with Americans, learn how American schools work, or trying to make new friends can be very difficult and frightening if someone doesn’t know English well.
I also understand how much easier it is to communicate with those who speak your native language. Even though I live in a Spanish-speaking country, about 75% of my communication is in English. When I have a choice between speaking in Spanish or in English, I usually choose English. It is more comfortable for me and simply easier. The problem with this is I have fewer opportunities to speak Spanish. Therefore, it is important to speak in your new language, even with friends who know your native language well.
From these experiences, I’ve learned some tips to helps English learners in the United States. To begin, be patient! It might take a language learner more time than others to respond, but they can do it if you let them! Second, never translate and always speak in English. It does not help me learn Spanish if people simply translate things I don’t understand into English. What helps is if people explain things in Spanish using different words. Last, always be positive. Never laugh or say things like, “You don’t know this language.” Nothing is more discouraging than someone making fun of your hard efforts to learn another language.
For those of you learning another language, don’t be shy! Talk to native speakers and don’t worry about making mistakes. You can’t learn without practice! If you don’t understand something, ask for people to explain. Go out and find books, music, movies and TV in the language you’re learning. Choose things you’re interested in. And speak, speak, speak as much as you can. You’ll be communicating in your new language in no time!