I’ve decided to start studying Spanish.
Why, you might ask, would I be willing to subject myself to the arduous task of learning a language – again?
I studied Italian even though I had absolutely no need for the language. Eleven years, one country and a husband later and I can say that Italian is a necessary aspect of my life. Still, you’d think that would be enough language learning for me. After all, I’m still learning every day. I’m living in an adopted country and fighting every day to master the idiosyncrasies of the language and yet I have an irresistible need to know Spanish. I want to hear the words, to savor their meaning, to fall into the melodic cadence of the sentences. I want to respond with a perfectly lispy Spanish pronunciation, shoot out slang like I’ve known it my whole life. I want to read the Spanish classics in their native language. I want to know Spanish.
Your forgiven if you think I’m crazy.
I recently wrote about why I study languages in general. The cognitive benefits, the satisfaction of each new conquest and the open door to a new culture are some of the reasons why. But after dedicating myself to writing in English and deep-diving into the Italian language, the post doesn’t quite answer why I would subject myself to another language learning journey, and why Spanish?
If I’ve momentarily forgotten how difficult it is to learn a language, my first Spanish lesson brings it all back: the hours of study, the insurmountable verb tenses and bewildered acceptance of new rules that it takes to learn. Starting back at zero is humiliating and humbling. On decent days it’s just discouraging. On the best days it’s motivating.
My Spanish lessons brought back into sharp focus the hours and hours I spent holed up in my apartment in Florence studying the language I heard sung, spoken and screamed on the streets below. From a part of my memory I had clearly blurred over I now remember the pain from hours of words bumping around in my head. The lists, the books, the post-its and dictionaries. I spent study breaks deciphering the Italian messages on my Facebook from new friends. I spent outings memorizing sentences at grocery stores and restaurants.
My Italian language sufferings have since evolved, but the struggle is still present. Now I feel the acute frustration of hearing my own accent. I feel the blush that covers my face when I can’t remember a specific word in the middle of a conversation. I click my fingers and ask friends for help. I’m furious I’m not perfect in Italian.
I was too innocent to be intimidated by Italian. I had no idea it would take me the better part of a decade to learn it! This time around I know better, but I’ve got something else on my side. I come armed with knowledge of how one learns a language. My second, second language. I might be new to Spanish, but I’m no longer a beginner in language learning.
Plus, there’s something about entering into a new realm of communicating – of being – that really attracts me. Every new language brings out a new part of you. You’re reformed, cell by cell, into that language as you learn it, word by word.
My tentative journey into learning Spanish is exciting. It feels important and new. I can still have fun with it without the weight of years of study on my back. Spanish is a clean slate.
A new language gives you the freedom to be imperfect.
My frustration is tempered by extreme wonder at each new word. Of course I would always like to learn faster, but I’m also aware that when you start back at zero, each new word brings you bounds ahead in your language learning.
I’m not the only one who found freedom in being a beginner. In her newest book, In Other Words, about her love affair with the Italian language, Jhumpa Lahiri says that that imperfection stimulates creativity. It gives us a deeper understanding of ourselves. It motivates us.
After all, there’s nothing like not “being there yet” to get you moving.