When I actually have the time to sit and reflect on my life and the wonderful people that are in it, I realize I don’t know how I have gone most of my life without knowing the Torres fam. For starters, they’ve always included me, they care about me, and they are some of the funniest people I know (beside myself, por supuesto), so how could I ever not get along? 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 frequent Spanish when with them—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—I am living proof that anyone can do it, including you! 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.
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 the improvement already), 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 a lot of Spanish being spoken whenever I am over. I enjoy it, but I also have trouble following along sometimes—that is okay. You need to remember you are not always going to catch everything that’s said, especially not in the beginning, but you’re not expected to either. Don’t let that stop you.
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. In addition to this, it’s painfully easy to take 5 minutes each day using an online language tool for studying more vocabulary; my favorite is an online app called duolingo.
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 the moment when you stop learning and improving. One thing I make a point to do is listen to the conversations going on around me in Spanish when 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.
When I first began spending time with the Torres’s, I sincerely thought that if I were to open 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.
Like I mentioned previously, Edwin’s entire family makes a conscious and active effort to speak English for me. They adjust to make me more comfortable when I’m with them. I never allow myself to 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 anyone who doesn’t speak English must start speaking it for me so I can understand them, and I will never have to do anything different; this is simply, flat-out not true. These uncomfortable periods of learning new vocabulary will lead to a better pay-off in the end, I promise you.
Anyone you know who speaks multiple languages will never say 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 in similar scenarios that I have been in, you will never look back and say “oh darn, what a waste of time.” NEVER. It is simply a lot of fun.
I would be remised if I didn’t mention that Edwin’s family always feeds me when I’m with them. Most stereotypes are just that, 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 mom will fill every inch of my plate with bomb-dot-com arroz con habichuelas when she gets the chance (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. Until then, I will take my own words of advice. Don’t let language barriers stop you. 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!