For the last few weeks, in my ongoing endeavor to learn Spanish, something I committed to in my Freshman year, I’ve been holding weekly zoom meetings with my mother’s colleague—Magdalena. Magdalena is a kindly woman, originally from Spain but now living here in England (where my family lives), who works with my mother at one of the nearby town libraries. I guess my upcoming study abroad semester in Barcelona, as well as my goal of learning Spanish, came up in conversation one day and my mother told me one evening that Magdalena had extended an offer to help me out with my speaking skills. I was reluctant at first, as the thought of speaking Spanish to a native who I’d never met before was terrifying. Although, as I ruminated on the idea, I realized that I absolutely needed the practice. My whole reason for choosing Spain as my study abroad location, was that I’d be able to immerse myself in language. Therefore, if I couldn’t meet with my mother’s friend for half an hour once a week; what chance did I have of surviving four months in Barcelona with a local host family?
I remember that in the first zoom call we had, I was very unsure of myself and honestly quite frightened at the thought of how I’d cope in Barcelona. However, my self-doubt diminished when Magdalena recalled a jarring experience when she first came to England as a student; after her first seventy-five-minute lecture at university, she left the lecture hall realizing that she’d only understood one single word. Now, I don’t want to let it go to my head, but even with my current ability to comprehend the Spanish language, I could definitely understand maybe at least…two words if I were to sit through a lecture in Spanish… In all seriousness, I’m confident enough in my abilities to think I could get the gist of a Spanish lecture, and hearing this from Magdalena reassured me of my better-than-beginner advantage that I have for when I get to Barcelona. It also grounded me in the understanding that language learning is something people do every single day, often in much more strenuous situations, and that fears and anxieties such as: ‘do I make sense’, ‘do I sound stupid’, ‘will people laugh at me’, are probably the biggest obstacles that everyone has to overcome before they can really master a second language.
I remember vividly the first call we had after I had needed to take a week off due to some extended family being in town. Resultingly, in that week off I entirely neglected my daily Spanish practice. The effects of my negligence were apparent in that first call, and disastrous. I could barely stammer a complete sentence, let alone a series of cohesive words. I knew I wasn’t making any sense, and Magdalena even pointed out that it was clear I had lost all my confidence, which was the last thing I wanted to hear. I ended that call in shame, feeling like I’d wasted weeks of practice; however, not long later, a renewed sense of motivation began to stir. Every day of the following week I practiced, spoke out loud, read chapters of ‘Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal’ and watched YouTube videos entirely in Spanish. In my next weekly call with Magdalena, my abilities and confidence were at an all-time high. I didn’t feel the need to translate everything in my head before saying it, I wasn’t speaking in the same quavering accent that I had been the week before, and the fluidity with which I was speaking felt excellent. At the end of the call, Magdalena even took note of my improvement, assuaging the fears that had built up from our previous call. My confidence restored, I felt ready again for the challenge of speaking local Spanish with local speakers.
Needless to say, I am still very much in need of practice, and I’m still quite far from being able to hold a solid conversation. I try to speak out loud to myself in Spanish, I listen to my podcasts and watch those YouTube videos made for Spanish learners as frequently as I can throughout the day, just to give myself as much practice as possible. However, the weekly meetings with Magdalena have proved astronomically useful in helping me to get used to thinking in Spanish and in preparing myself for the inevitable circumstances where I will have to converse in Spanish at almost every hour throughout every day. It isn’t easy, and I still get flustered when I try and talk in Spanish, but the whole point of doing this study abroad program was to catapult myself out of my comfort zone, and land somewhere foreign and unfamiliar.
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I have a passion for storytelling, I like to spin mundane thoughts and pass-times into narrative spectacles on paper or in my mind. I think everything we do is part of a story and there is no such thing as a boring life.