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Guest Post: Why Learning Spanish Is Important to Me

by Catherine Floyd 

To this day, I can still remember walking into my first middle school Spanish class. With high hopes and a bright smile, my large expectation of becoming fluent in the Spanish language by the end of the semester seemed completely plausible. Well…it wasn’t. In fact, I almost failed that semester of the seemingly easy language. I couldn’t grasp the fact as to why I wasn’t able to compromise a simple sentence or understand the small phrases my teacher was saying to me. Needless to say, I was crushed and completely over attempting to learn a foreign language.

Fast-forward to my first day of Spanish class my junior year of college. To say I was nervous would be a complete understatement. Images of my GPA falling and the frustration of not knowing what the hell was going on in class were consuming me. Then something happened. I started to do well. A simple conversation actually became simple, with myself being able to formulate an appropriate response. The structure of a sentence wasn’t as intimidating and vocabulary started to stick within my brain.

So what was different? Besides puberty, there was something else to accredit to my newfound “success” (if that’s what you’d like to call it). Until recently, I didn’t know what it was.

Drive.

An inner drive towards an opportunity abroad motivated me to give Spanish another chance and work hard towards being able to hold a conversation. So what was that opportunity, you ask? I had decided to travel to Honduras that winter to volunteer with a nonprofit (Students Helping Honduras, www.ceciskids.org) to build schools in under developed communities. Since I was a kid, I had always wanted to travel and help others and now I had my chance! I yearned to learn all about the culture from the Honduran people and play with the kids who would be learning in the school I was building…there was the simple problem of communicating holding me back.

Spanish had always been the class I dreaded to go to and that never made sense, but things changed. I was determined to overcome my previous emotions towards the language. To have a small barrier, such as a difference in dialect, hold me back from connecting with others was inexcusable in my eyes. So, I studied my ass off (to say the least) and started to see results. I took the time to actually study, ask questions and practice the language that formerly haunted me.

Once down in Honduras, yeah I still struggled to hold a conversation. There were a lot of hand motions, “Uhhh…”, “Como se dice…?”, (How do you say?), and awkward silences followed by laughs. Even all of that didn’t matter. When you encounter a native speaker, in any language, they’re going to know if you’re a beginner learner or not. Guess what? They will help teach you regardless of your speaking level. It could be a simple word, or a cultural phrase that will help add to expand your vocabulary. Trust me, after you have a moment where a native speaker helps you with some terminology…you will not forget that moment!

So, why does learning Spanish mean so much to me? It means so much to me for the sheer possibility of connecting with others. I want to be able to communicate with individuals of all walks of life. We live in a massive world that is now connected via the Internet and social media but still contains a barrier of language. There is some sheer joy in simply talking to someone and hearing their story…whether it is through a movie, phone conversation, online, or in person. Spanish is the language I chose because it was the native tongue of the country I was traveling to. I could easily be writing this about German or Italian if the circumstances were different.

I have found a deep passion in the Spanish language that has given me a new goal to continue volunteering abroad with a service in the Peace Corps. Though I could be placed in any country, I have my fingers crossed for a Latin American one! Nowadays, I work towards a goal of fluency through weekly Skype sessions and vocab practice on language apps.

With everything said and done, I do offer some small advice: Don’t give up. Take some time out of your day and practice what you learn. There are some awesome individuals out in the world, don’t limit yourself to connecting with them because of a language barrier. It’s a slow and steady path, but once you take that first step…I promise you won’t regret it!

 

Catherine Floyd is a graduate of Shenandoah University and will join the Peace Corps in 2016

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2 responses to “Guest Post: Why Learning Spanish Is Important to Me”

  1. Emma Sibley says:

    Great story. I can really relate as I also began my language learning journey through volunteering. It’s not something I expected to become so meaningful to me, but learning Russian feels like a way for me to stay connected to the children I volunteered with. Thank you for sharing. I hope you get the placement you want. 🙂

    • tammybjelland says:

      Thanks for commenting, Emma! I love the sentiment of meaningful connection through learning another language.