When I actually have the time to sit and reflect on my life and the wonderful people that are in it, I realize that I don’t know how I went most of my life, thus far, not knowing the Torres fam. For starters, they’ve counted me in from day one, they support and encourage me, and they are some of the funniest people I know (beside myself, of course), so how could I not get along, right? Funny enough, I was actually super nervous before really meeting them for the first time, and I had no idea how I was supposed to navigate listening to Spanish all the time—honest truth. How comfortable are they with speaking in English? Are they aware I cannot speak Spanish (well, okay, maybe a little) to save my life? Will I ever be able to learn Spanish? I laugh about these questions today, but hindsight is 20/20, so there you go. Now, here I am, rolling with the big dogs, listening to and understanding Spanish all the time—I am living proof that anyone can do it! To save you some trouble in the long-run, I’ve boiled down some here’s-what-I-know-now-that-I-didn’t-then sort of things for meeting and conversing with other-language speakers.
1. You will be a little lost sometimes.
If I could have a nickel for every time I realize I have no idea what anyone is talking about, I could pay off my college loans. At Edwin’s casa (look at that—that is improvement right there), the primary language is Español; everyone speaks a lot of English to me and for me, but that doesn’t change the language at the heart of their home. Long story short, I listen to Spanish being spoken all the time. I enjoy it, but I also have trouble following along sometimes—that is okay. You need to remember that you are not always going to catch everything that’s said, especially not in the beginning, and you’re not expected to either. Don’t let that stop you.
2. Take advantage of your resources.
It’s not a test, you are allowed to phone a friend or use trusty-ole google. Sometimes I still forget this one. I usually ask Edwin to help me translate when his family is having a conversation and I get tripped up. Otherwise, I find it really helpful to look up words I don’t know online. On top of this, it’s also easy to take 5 minutes each day using an online language tool to study more vocabulary; my favorite for this is an online app called duolingo.
3. Watch and listen.
Even if you have absolutely no clue what is going on, you’re totally lost, and you think you’ve worked your brain so hard that you cant remember how to speak your own native language, don’t stop watching and listening. The moment you decide to zone out is when you stop learning and improving. One thing I make a point about doing is listening to the conversations going on around me in Spanish while I’m at Edwin’s house. No, I don’t mean in a creepy way—that would be weird—but rather in an engaged way. Watching hand gestures and paying attention to context clues can never hurt.
4. You will make a lot of mistakes—a lot of the time.
When I started spending time with the Torres’s, I sincerely thought that if I were to pen my mouth and think Spanish thoughts, complete fluency would flow out of me. I was sadly mistaken, but they were all impressed by my confidence, so I count it as a win. It’s okay to make mistakes. You have to make mistakes now to be able to know Spanish (or any other language) later. It’s shameful to admit, but I often still let this hold me back from attempting Spanish with other Spanish-speakers; I’m working on fixing that.
5. You are not the only one adjusting.
Like I mentioned previously, Edwin’s entire family has made a conscious and active effort to speak English to me and for me. They adjust to make me more comfortable and to help me. I never let myself forget this. I am not the only one making changes. I think that as an English speaker, it’s easy to fall under the illusion that English is this ultimate language that everyone on the entire planet must learn to communicate and I will never have to work to adjust because of that; this is simply, flat-out not true. These uncomfortable periods of learning a whole new vocabulary will lead to a better pay-off in the end, I promise you.
6. You will love it.
Anyone you know who speaks multiple languages will never say to you that they regret learning the second one. Actually, they will probably say the opposite. Since knowing Edwin and his family, I have learned so much about language, and also about culture; it is a unique thing that I have the wonderful pleasure of experiencing, and something that I will always carry with me. Trust me, if you are experiencing similar scenarios that I have, you will never look back and say “oh darn, what a waste of time.” NEVER. The Torres family has helped shape me into the woman I am today.
7. When in doubt, they will never let you go hungry.
I would be remised if I didn’t mention that Edwin’s family always feeds me. Most stereotypes are just that, stereotypes, but the one about Hispanic households making sure you are fed with deliciousness is very true. I’ve learned that Puerto Rican food is uh-mazing, and I’ve also learned that Edwin’s mother will always fill every inch of my dinner plate with some bomb-dot-com arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans if you are unfamiliar). I’ll get into all my elevated opinions of Puerto Rican foods another time, just know that it’s good.
Over the course of my relationship with my boyfriend, I’ve learned that Spanish is difficult, but very rewarding. I can’t wait until I am fluent and I can tell you how great it is to reach the other side, but until then I will take my own words of advice. Don’t let language barriers stop you, and keep pressing on. I feel like the tagline for this post should be “you won’t regret it”, because it is so true—you won’t regret it.
I would love to know if you have gone through anything similar—share in the comments if you found these lessons helpful, if you are working on speaking Spanish to someone, or if want to take up a language just for the fun of it!