I didn’t just cry. I bawled. It ain’t easy. Learning a new language is very difficult even when you are immersed in it. Two days ago my Spanish teacher here in Granada pushed and pushed in front of the class, asking me the same question over and over as if the answer was with me and I was just holding back from her. She made me the center of attention, criticized a paragraph I wrote and told me (actually reprimanded me), “You need to think in Spanish. Not in English.” I started to melt down. I panicked. How can I think in Spanish if I’m not from here and I don’t completely understand the language? At that moment, I didn’t know my name much less the difference between ser and estar and how to conjugate verbs into indefinido, perfecto, conditional, etc. The whole reason I was in the class was to learn to think and speak Spanish. Yet I was failing. I felt like a little girl again. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I was afraid to blink so I stared forward and tried not to move. It was too late, I blinked and they went streaming down my face. I was frustrated with myself, really annoyed with her, and it all came out in that moment.
Before moving to Granada I felt somewhat confident about learning Spanish. I had studied it for three years in high school with a very strict teacher who helped me to achieve a 92% on the New York Regents exam. That was one of my proudest moments in high school. My teacher had been really tough and pushed us throughout the year, prepping for the exam. I also studied the language for two years at Villanova University as part of my liberal arts degree. Now that we are spending the year in Spain I was excited to learn and to enjoy the process. I think that’s why I got so frustrated – I was flailing or failing at something I actually LIKED and WANTED to do. Something I chose to do. I wanted to be a role model to my kids. There have been days when they’ve come home from school frustrated, telling me they had cried. I want them to learn resilience and now I’m the one having trouble adapting and feeling afraid to get back up. I let my sons and daughter know I had a hard day and I could empathize with them. I’m only studying two hours a day. They are at school for five. They are studying math, science, social studies, Spanish and French. I’m only taking Spanish.
It’s been awhile since I’ve learned something completely new and one of my life goals is to learn a new language to keep my mind sharp. I’m starting to suffer from short term memory loss and at my age, I am very aware that things could head down hill fast if I don’t keep my mind going and continue to challenge myself intellectually. But it’s not easy.
I was surprised at the visceral response. My husband later confided that I looked so upset, he was afraid I might punch the teacher in the face. I suppose in the past I had been studying as a means to an end. In high school it was to get a good grade to get into college. In college it was to fulfill a requirement. But now, it’s something I want and something I need to do for myself. And that’s where the frustration lies – not being able to do something I want to do.
The tables have turned and the kids have become my role models this week. I have to get up and go to class – no excuses. I have to find other ways to study and remember the information using the apps and resources available to me – Duolingo, flashcards, class materials, and watching TV in Spanish. I will continue to talk to the local people and not be afraid to fail. Setting smaller goals might help me too. “Becoming fluent in Spanish” might be setting the bar high for the next week or month. Perhaps trying on a new tense each day and practicing.
I salute anyone who has had the courage to learn a new language. I have plenty of friends, many in LA who speak more than one language and I’m blown away by their ability to speak clearly and concisely and think in two (sometimes three) languages. It takes confidence and the ability to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable. Learning a new language requires patience and practice and resilience. You’ve got to want it and to work for it.
I’m going to try my best to get back up and start again. This teacher is not going to bring me down. I’ve got this – but I can’t say I’m sad we are visiting London this weekend where I can regroup and feel confident again!