Are We Ever Really Fluent?
I first began my journey learning a second language as a 12-year-old in the 7th grade, studying simply how to say “Hello,” “How are you,” and “Where is the library?” Why is that question so important? Maybe because library sounds so cool in Spanish…biblioteca. Anyway, as of this year, it means that I have been learning Spanish for exactly half of my lifetime.
A lot of my family and friends ask if I am fluent yet, or at least what my level of fluency is. This is a very difficult question to answer, as one of the greatest things that I have come to realize is that understanding another language is a continuous, life-learning process. Many of my friends, who speak Spanish much better than I do, and who I would consider to be fluent, have informed me that no matter how far you go, you never really feel “done” with learning in any language, not even your own. After thinking about this for a long time, I agree. I am currently living in Peru, and every day I am constantly exposed to new words in Spanish, just like in English.
What is really interesting is that I think about language and communication very differently now. I’ve realized that language systems are really just the easiest ways that people have found to send whatever message they are trying to get across, but as humans we still have not found a perfect way to fully express ourselves sometimes. If we did, I get the feeling the world would look a lot different! This is something that I am positive only people who have taken the time to learn another language understand, and I am very grateful that I have been exposed to this new way of thinking. There is a really great sense of accomplishment when you are able to make a clear connection and say something in a foreign language that a native speaker understands, and vice versa when you begin to comprehend the meaning of something they are saying.
So, how fluent am I? After 12 years of studying and practicing Spanish… I’d say that I am about halfway along the learning curve, and I am fine with that. Learning a second language is so fun and challenging at the same time, it really amazes me how it can be a game or it can be homework, depending on your attitude for learning in general. Looking back on how far I’ve come over the last few years alone, I am very proud of myself for how easy it has become to say almost all of the everyday things that I would like to/ need to get across. Participating on the numerous trips I went on with Educational Travel Adventures has really challenged me to learn as much Spanish as possible. I absolutely gained more out of two weeks abroad with ETA than in a whole semester of classes; when your host family or community doesn’t speak English, it is impossible not to learn! Beyond being just a personal accomplishment, having even the basics of a foreign language under your belt looks great to potential future employers. On top of being useful in our ever increasingly globalized planet, it means that you really took the time to try and understand a whole group of people different from your own family or community.
Studying Spanish has even motivated me to want to learn a third language… maybe French or Portuguese?? The great thing about learning one secondary romance language is that learning the next is much easier, because again you have a new understanding of how language systems really work. I know that I still have a long way to go on my journey to master Spanish, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had abroad to help facilitate this fun adventure.