A few weeks ago, OU held an event called Tierra Tinta where Spanish graduate and PhD students gathered to present research that they had done on various topics. I went in the morning and listened to a presentation about the opinions of modern Mexican literature in the 21st century. Everything – and I mean everything – was in Spanish. Now, I could lie to you and say that it was amazing and that I understood most of it and that I just sat back and listened with no difficulties, but because my Spanish learning is so personal and important to me, I want to be very frank. I could barely understand anything past the initial greeting. The presenters had prepared long, written speeches, and everything that they said aside from their greetings was from a piece of paper. They spoke very quickly, did not make a lot of eye contact with the audience, and their voices remained relatively monotone. This in itself made the entire experience really disheartening. With any language, emotion and enunciation are immeasurably important. Even in English, I sometimes have to ask people to repeat themselves if their voice is dull or if they lack facial expressions or body gestures. It’s part of comprehension.
In my Spanish classes, my professors have always been very emotive when speaking, making sure to put on big smiles when saying something exciting or solemn frowns when giving bad news. These things have helped me tremendously to understand what’s being said, and for me, facial and bodily gestures now go hand-in-hand with speaking, because they supplement my comprehension so much. So, during the conference, as the presenters were reading from their prepared speeches, I sat emotionless and annoyed as I picked out a word or two every few seconds. It was like watching a movie when the DVD is scratched and the movie jumps and skips around, and you’re left confused as to what’s going on. It was really aggravating, and I must be honest and say that I briefly became extremely discouraged and considered the idea that, even though Spanish is supposedly one of the “easier” second languages for native English speakers, I would never be able to master it.
It’s undoubtedly difficult to start learning a second language as an adult. It is so hard. Some days you feel like you’re pretty decent. You’re watching a Disney movie and understand quite a bit, so you puff out your chest, clutch your Spanish novel, and continue singing along to a Spanish song. You’re sure that you’re basically fluent. Other days, you read something – say, a Spanish Hallmark card or a funny Spanish meme on the internet – and you have no clue what it says. At all. You get angry. You stop reading your novel, you delete your Duolingo app, and you subscribe to more English Spotify playlists. You’ll never learn. It’s hopeless.
But the truth is, if you enjoy it enough and spend enough time trying, you WILL learn. It’s all about desire and persistence. Even after feeling like crap during the conference, the excitement that I have for Spanish kicked in again, and I pressed on. I really love it, and this fact is the one thing in my life of which I am absolutely sure. I will never stop trying to learn and master it, and this is advice that I have for anyone who wants to learn another language. You absolutely can, and if it is important to you, like anything else in life, you’ll make it happen.