They say all it takes is a little confidence to make a name for yourself in a new language. Forget the hours spent practicing, if you don’t jump on an opportunity to speak and interact with the people of your target culture(s), all can go for naught at the drop of a hat.
I should know, as a shy, stuttering person myself.
I’ve been studying Spanish since freshman year of high school, and when I finally fell in love with the language after some initial hesitancy to dip my toes into its muddled, dark, yet vast and life-giving waters, I knew I’d made the right decision.
I felt at a disadvantage, since most of my peers in Spanish language classes had been studying since middle school, and were always flaunting their advanced skills, seemingly in front of my face. I was “aged” in no uncertain terms. But I was determined to progress, and I worked harder than any of my classmates (to add an addendum: again, “seemingly”) to improve. Spanish classes were boring, dull affairs for the most part, and we never saw an actual Spanish speaker in our classroom and/or got to know them and their culture.
I reached senior year with perfect grades in Spanish, and as the Internet can be wont to tell you, perfect grades don’t necessarily mean perfect performance (in the real world). And knowing what I know now about other subjects and other people, I’d agree, but in this case, I really did have a good hand dealt to me, and it was all through my effort. I was rewarded with an experience to meet Spanish speakers in my community and help them out, with of course, assistance from students in higher levels. However, I must backpedal here.
I wasn’t prepared for how fast native speakers could go in daily speech, even though I’d read Spanish is a language best viewed from the driver’s seat of a Maserati. I was anxious around strangers. And most of all, I felt an undeniable nervousness at having to speak with people (!) when I spent most of my time writing and reading. It was a terrifying experience–so terrifying in fact, that when I look back on it, all I remember is the horror I felt at feeling lost in translation.
But that pain gave me renewed motivation to study. I didn’t want to feel like I didn’t belong in the Spanish-speaking community ever again. I may have stood out like a sore thumb, but I didn’t want it to be because I was fumbling through a proverbial word web, getting tangled up my brain. Spiders here are the seat of all knowledge, and are not evil; they merely desire to live and eat what they trap: the flies that carry with them context and experience. Eat more of these, and you can add more to your silk.
I’m happy to report I have mostly gotten over myself. I probably would’ve had a much better experience back then had I just pried open my lockjaw and said a few words to the folks around me, but the past is gone. What matters now are the connections I’ve made in the present. Within the past couple of years, I’ve met many more Hispanic people and have come to get to know them using their language. This didn’t come without much practice on my part. However, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.
I’m not really a proponent of “speak your first week”, even with my experiences. But I do endorse getting out there when you have enough under your belt to at least say “hello” or “how are you?”. Always preface it with, “I’m learning your language and… / I’ve learnt a few phrases from your native language and… I wanted to know if I’m off to a good start” or something similar. Language exchange partners can be hit-or-miss (at least, from what I’ve discovered). But, the most important aspect of introducing yourself to new people is the experience you gain. Gotta feed that spider, right?
I’m still shy, and naturally more of an observant sort, but when I’m called upon to speak, my responses are less stilted… and well, a full response! I can’t tell you how it thrills me to be able to forge new relationships with people in ways I otherwise wouldn’t have thanks to that skill I decided to pick up and obsess over all that time ago. As a relatively passive person, this is especially amazing, since my forays into relationship building often end awkwardly. Knowing Spanish helped smooth those awkward edges and granted me a happiness I didn’t know I was craving.
So, please–if you’re desiring someone to bond with, remember that language of any type is the ultimate tool to do that. Yes, even simply holding hands is a great solution to a barrier in communication. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid.
We’re humans; we’re born to reach out.
(Preview image by aranprime on Unsplash.com / Text by FTLW.com)