Worried About Learning Another Language?

Authored by:
Benjamin P.

¡Hola!

I’ve started out this blog post with a simple word: hola.

Now I’m sure you know what that word means. You didn’t even have to think about it. You didn’t need to spell it out, look it up, or decipher it, because when you see that word, you know what it means. You probably can’t figure out and exact moment you learned the meaning of the word hola, but you probably learned what meant through exposure to media, pop culture, spanish classes, Dora the Explorer, etc, etc.

Congrats! You’re already on your first step to becoming bilingual!

That’s how words work. We hear them over and over again and we are exposed to them. We can try to memorize them like we do with our own complex english vocabulary words but, for the most part, we as humans learn words from exposure. Over time, words can stick to our brains. Sometimes they stick easily and sometimes you have to work a little harder. Sometimes when you stick words on they peel right off. This just means that you have to find it on the floor, stick on some extra glue and keep trying to get it to stick.

Did that metaphor even make sense?

Sometimes you can hear a word try to memorize it, but completely forget it moments later. But the more exposure you have to these words, the more you use them, hear them, write them, see them, the more they’ll remain in your memory and part of your growing vocabulary.

Learning another language is difficult. I’m not going to lie about that.

Probably the most common question I get asked by people is, “how did you learn the language?” The majority of prospect CIEE students who have reached out to me have expressed their concerns about learning Spanish, understanding their classes, and making friends in another language.

Of course it’s scary. Of course it’s not going to be easy. Of course it’s a challenge. That is what this program is supposed to be. If you’re not up for the challenge, then maybe this program isn’t right for you.

When I first got here, it felt like people were talking at a million miles per second. Although I had taken Spanish classes during my first two years at high school, I had to work exceptionally hard to use my limited Spanish vocabulary to express myself and understand what was being spoken to me.

People are going to understand that you’re learning. If someone’s talking too fast, let them know you don’t understand. Ask them to speak more slowly. They’re not going to expect you to be speaking perfect Spanish. If anything, they’re going to be surprised and flattered by the fact that an English-speaking American is taking the time and effort to learn their language.

What I personally think is the most important part of learning language is trying your best to use the language. Language is about communication. Yes it comes with verb tenses, pronunciation, and other complex grammatical rules, but the bottom line is that languages are used to communicate. Just speak! Don’t be worried about making mistakes. The most important part is that you’re communicating something that people can understand. As you grow more accustomed to this form of communication, as you learn more about grammatical rules, acquire more vocabulary, etc, THEN is when you can start perfecting your grammar and accent. What you say doesn’t have to be perfect. It can sound stupid. You can make mistakes, but mistakes really help you learn. I know it sounds cliché but it is so true in so many aspects of life – especially with learning languages!

It might take a long time. it might be extremely frustrating. it might feel like you’re making no improvement. Trust me when I say that you are improving. No matter the number of months you're staying in Spain, if you're willing to try, push yourself, and make mistakes, you will make improvments. 

It’s super easy to get into the routine of being shy, not wanting to talk out of embarrassment, or watching English shows and movies on Netflix. The truth is, trying is important thing. If you want to see yourself learn grow, it is necessary to push yourself out of your comfort zone. This program is all about what you put into it. If you keep that in mind and approach every day with an intention to learn, you’re sure to develop in ways far beyond learning another language. 

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or are seeking advice on studying abroad! I’d be more than happy to answer them – my instagram is: @benpearl

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