On Learning to Speak a Language

*Please note: This post was first published on the blog I kept in 2011 while studying abroad*

The first time I came to Spain in high school I spent a whole week with a host family with little to know contact with the other people in my group. I was forced to speak and listen to only (or at least mostly) Spanish everyday all day. I went to bed exhausted with my head full of Spanish to the point of bursting, but I always felt accomplished as I realized that each day I was able to say more and more of what I wanted to say.

The last two weeks of being in Spain has not given me that feeling until today. Each day I got by with the little Spanish I needed to keep communication with my host mom open. Listening to my teachers speak was likewise a very passive act and I didn’t feel any challenge in it.

Today I began the Tandem Program here at the Universidad de Deusto which pairs students up who wish to practice each other’s language. My partner was very nice and easy to get along with. However, as I spoke with her in either Spanish or in English I could feel my mind being stretched as I had a full one on one conversation with someone in Spanish.

I have little trouble writing in either Spanish or English but vocalizing my words in either language has always been more difficult for me. I know this word or that but it can’t seem to emerge from the part of my brain that writes into the part of my brain that speaks. I had to find ways to explain words I didn’t know in Spanish.  Even in English I had to simplify what I was saying in English and deliberately think about whether what I was saying was understandable to my partner. My mind was sore in a similar way to how muscles are sore after exercise. The muscle soreness is proof that I have worked hard and the next day I’ll be stronger.

I am so glad, though, to finally feel my mind stretched because it means I can now move forward in my ability to speak Spanish.

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