I always thought my Spanish was good. After my three weeks in Spain as an exchange student in high school, I felt like I could get through any situation with the level of Spanish I possessed. Even up to the final days before I departed for my semester here in Madrid, I was very confident that all of my Spanish would come back to me despite little practice in the previous year and a half. I thought I would easily become fluent well before the end of my semester. After nearly 6 weeks living in Spain, I realize now–and have come to admit to myself–that a second language is a very difficult thing to master.
In a way, it is a disappointing discovery; however, I now understand so much more about language than I ever did before. It’s naive to believe that the nearly-full immersion into the Spanish culture that I am experiencing will automatically make me fluent in the language. This is because it takes a lot of effort to reach that level of understanding. You have to speak it constantly to the point that your brain switches all thoughts to the other language, and this has to take place everyday. In the end, I think that achieving fluency in another language is a much rarer thing than I’ve been led to believe all my life. To be fluent in a language is to speak, read, write, think, and dream in that language, and it takes a lot time–at least longer than three months. The people who think that you will become fluent in a language after three months in a foreign country are people that have never done that in their lives. I would say that none of my teachers here in Madrid are fluent in English–something which might seem scary people thinking about studying abroad. If that doesn’t show you how difficult and uncommon fluency is, then I don’t know what will. After all, these are the people doing the teaching.
That being said, I have experienced first hand how interesting the process of learning a new language is. It’s truly mind-boggling. When I first arrived here I could only understand about 50% of what people were saying to me when speaking Spanish. Now, I’m at the point where I can understand between 80% and 90%, and the funny thing is that I feel no different. When I speak Spanish, it comes out more easily than it ever has. I still have to think about what I want to say and do some translation in my head, and of course I still make grammatical errors, but my ability with the language has definitely improved. It has become such a huge part of my thinking that I cannot imagine life without it. Basically, I can no longer fathom not being able to speak and understand Spanish.
Learning Spanish in an immersion environment has been a fantastic experience, but yet, I’ve learned to curb my expectations of how proficient I’ll be by the end of the semester. I think that now–nearly two years after my last time in Spain–I can actually get through most situations with my very adequate level of Spanish.
Fluency–well, that’s a whole other story. I might have to move here for a couple of years to even consider that.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">My name is Nick Taglianetti. I am from Philadelphia, and I study computer engineering at Hofstra University in New York. Anything related to music, computers, traveling, soccer or deep frying, I'm your guy! I love learning about and sharing experiences of new places and cultures. Follow me for an intriguing insight.</span></p>