This post originally appeared on Medium.
Image Credit: Unsplash Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette
I took my first Spanish class in fourth grade.
Okay, it wasn’t actually a Spanish class. It was Spanish club.
The mom of one of the other children at my elementary suggested an after school group for kids interested in learning a new language.
Great idea! But, we only met once.
I guess it’s not that big of a deal that Spanish club fell through. Thanks to awesome mid-90s PC games, I already knew colors, numbers, etc.
Even if I live to be 100 years old, I’ll never forget the days of the week song which was sung by a guitar-playing mouse à la Speedy Gonzalez.
Stop Grammar Time
At ninth grade orientation, I enrolled in Spanish 1. Spoiler Alert: I went on to take Spanish 2, 3 and 4.
I got an A in all of them, but to be honest, I never really tried.
I didn’t have to.
Like is unfortunately the experience of many people studying a second language, my classmates and I never actually spoke Spanish.
We watched an entire Spanish soap opera series, discussed influential Hispanic artists and conjugated verbs like it was our job.
However, the closest we ever got to speaking was reading scripted conversations.
Pssst, camerero. Me gustaría pedir otra cerveza.
The Universe Knows Best (or something)
After high school, I forgot about Spanish for awhile. Despite my cousin’s best efforts to make me choose otherwise, I majored in political science.
Just before graduation, I decided I wanted to be an au pair.
When I put together a profile on Au Pair World, I said I was open to pretty much any country in Western Europe.
France. Germany. Italy. I would have been happy anywhere.
In the end though, I chose a family from Spain.
With four months until I was set to depart for Madrid, I decided to brush up on my Spanish. I began taking classes on Italki.
Italki is an online education platform that connects language students and teachers. I enlisted the help of Rocío.
When I landed in Madrid in September 2014, I though I was prepared but quickly realized how much I had to learn. Between living with my Spanish host family and a month-long language course, I improved.
Back to Reality
I returned to the United States in November 2014 with a newfound passion for Spanish.
I continued taking online classes with Rocío and applied for a program that would allow me to return to Spain the following September.
Despite being accepted into the program and getting placed in my first-choice city (Madrid), my studies dropped off. Busy with work and training for a marathon, I figured I could pick things up again when I got back to Spain.
That didn’t really happen though.
When I finally returned to Madrid in September 2015, I found myself avoiding Spanish.
To put it simply, I didn’t want to speak Spanish because I was too scared of making mistakes. I feared being exposed as a less-than-perfect speaker.
Looking back, I know how totally ridiculous that is. Even children know they’re going to fall of their bikes sometimes.
Making mistakes is how we learn.
Near the end of my first year, I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t anywhere near the level I wanted to be and rededicated myself to learning Spanish.
I started taking classes on Italki again and attending language exchanges.
In addition, I listened to Spanish podcasts, watch Spanish television series and, even, reread the Harry Potter series (in Spanish).
When I left Spain in June 2016, I was pleased with my progress but knew I still had a ways to go.
Fortunately, my boyfriend and I had plans to move to Mexico.
My Current Language Goals
I’ve been living in Mexico for almost three months now.
It’s been the perfect move on many fronts, but I’m especially pleased with how many more opportunities I have to speak Spanish. In Madrid, people would recognize me as a foreigner and immediately switch to English regardless of how their level of English compared to my Spanish.
Earlier this week, I decided it’s time to put my years of on again off again Spanish skills to the test.
In July, I will be taking the C1 DELE. It’s an official test certifying I possess an advanced level of Spanish.
After taking a practice test online today, I feel like it’s definitely something I can do, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the oral portion freaks me out a bit.
I have six months though, and I’m actually looking forward to the review/study process.
If you’ve ever taken an advanced level language proficiency test, please send any tips or tricks my way!
A Few Final Thoughts
As this 1,000-some-word post displays, my language learning journey has been a long one.
There have been ups and downs (a lot of downs).
But to anyone studying a language (or considering doing so), every inch of progress has been rewarding.
My greatest strides have come when I made learning a part of my every day life. When you make learning fun, it doesn’t feel like learning.
In today’s scared-AF-of-anything-different world, learning a language is more important than ever.
Even if you’re fortunate enough to be a native English speaker, I encourage you to study a second language.
Not only are there personal benefits like improved memory and delayed onset of Alzheimer’s, but it’s a unique opportunity to understand another culture through language.
It’s not too late to tack on another new year’s resolution. If you’re considering studying a second language, go for it.
I’m sure glad I did.