So this is not a secret – I am obsessed with languages! The intricacies of the spoken word and the copious amounts of culture carried by every word or phrase is something genuinely fascinating to me. And oh boy how happy (and fortunate!) am I to be able to speak three languages already.
I owe my first experience of speaking a foreign language with impeccable fluency to the three years of my childhood spent in the UK. Although back then I didn’t learn English per se, but rather a very distasteful Yorkshire derivative of the language (no offence!). Nevertheless, being fluent in the most widely spoken language in the world on top of my native one has opened so many doors for me and changed my life in so many ways.
But I guess being a child I really took it for granted. Learning a new language was not a choice, it was simply a means of survival and it came so naturally to me with my sponge-like young brain. But now, mastering Spanish in adulthood has brought the wonders of multilingualism to a whole new light for me and I’m constantly bewildered by just how cool it is to speak more than one language!
I have to say, the process is slow and painful at first and it takes a lot of guts to attempt to string a sentence together in a foreign tongue for the first time. But like with all things in life, it takes practice, time and patience before you stop feeling wobbly on your feet and begin to gain confidence in your abilities.
Personally, I feel like I’m nowhere near fluent yet, but I can definitely say that I no longer have many issues communicating in Spanish. There are still those times in the middle of a deeply personal and philosophical conversation when I find myself wishing I could express my thoughts as vividly and comprehensively as I would in English or my own mother-tongue, but all in all I surprise myself every day when I look back on my progress throughout the last 4 months in Mexico and realise just how much my speaking skills have improved and just how much I can genuinely understand.
I remember my first few weeks in the country when I would always opt for speaking English if the opportunity was there. I would understand most of what people were saying, but it was mainly the context in more complex conversations and the different accents and slang would through me off. Now I will always speak Spanish over English to native-speakers, I am able to differentiate between subtle nuances in meaning, weave in jokes and interpret slang. I was even able to act as a translator at numerous doctor’s appointments and start my own mini beginner Spanish class at the hostel! Sounds like a lot but I’m not done learning yet. I’m advancing more and more every day and attempting to incorporate increasingly complex sentence structures into my speech. I say that the day I can write a full blog post in Spanish and fully express myself without using Google Translator will be the day I announce myself fluent!
Needless to say, learning to speak a new language is so incredibly rewarding! It gets you so much closer to the locals and earns you respect for taking on their language. How amazing it has been to get to know the local Mexican ladies that worked at the same hostel as me – it would have never been possible if not for my Spanish as their English knowledge goes just about as far as “black coffee or with milk?”. How incredible it’s been to stay up until the early morning hours talking about life – all in Spanish! There’s such a different quality of conversation when someone expresses their thoughts and feelings in their own language and even more special when you can understand and respond.
When it comes to other multilinguals, I’ve also noticed the fascinating change in people as they switch languages. It’s almost like you get to see a totally different side of them with different languages – from body language, to intonation, to style of speech, there are subtle changes. I even notice this on myself when I switch from English to Lithuanian to Spanish.
Talking about switching languages, that in itself can be a fun and at times confusing experience, especially when you’re surrounded by people from all over the world. The amount of times I have spoken at someone in Spanish for 3 minutes, only to realise later that they only speak English! (or vice versa) Even more times I have spoken full-on Spanglish – mixing the two languages in one sentence. When I dream – I dream in a different language every night, if I write a list, it’s in all three languages at once. Yet the best is when I get so confused about which language to use that I automatically default to Lithuanian! Then you’ll find me shouting ‘Ką??’ at my Mexican coworker instead of ‘¿Que?’ or ‘Tuoj!’ instead of ‘¡Ahorita!’.
I am having so much fun with Spanish and I can guarantee this won’t be the last language I learn. I hope you too push yourself out of your comfort zone and start learning a new language! It’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn it once, it will take you no time to get back on it even after a long time of no practice. So you really have no excuse! And to help you, I’ve put together some tips to get you on your way. Happy languaging! 🙂