Learning a new language is no easy feat. I by no means would say I can fluently speak or understand Spanish. However, I have picked up enough to get by. To begin with I knew practically no Spanish, just the basics that I picked up in Peru three years ago. Throughout my three month Central American journey my vocabulary has increased and more importantly I have started to understand people talking in Spanish. I did not attend any Spanish schools in Central America like many other backpackers tend to do. This is something I wish I did participate in. While you cannot learn a language in a week, it would have helped to get a firm grounding. All my Spanish has come from the street, taking buses, talking to strangers and ordering food in restaurants.
Learning a new language can be the best thing in the world and also the worst. When you understand something, you are overjoyed and so proud of yourself. However, when after the third time a stranger repeats the same sentence and you are still clueless, it is intensely frustrating. This said, the richness of studying a beautiful language far outweighs it’s negatives. It can also bring some hilarious moments. I have said some funny things by mistake before. The key is to be able to laugh at yourself and try not to say anything to offensive by accident. Recently, I have told a hostel receptionist that ‘I am a man’. I was trying to say I am hungry and it came out all wrong. In my defence, I knew the word but my pronunciation was all off. Hambre (hungry) and hombre (man) are fairly similar, right? It’s fair to say I got a very strange look before I obliviously walked out the hostel to find some food. Another time I went to a restaurant, asked if I could look at the menu and then realised you could not pay by card. So after browsing the slightly above average prices in this nice place, I confidently said, ‘I have no money but thank you’ and walked out. On translating what I said, my friend and myself starting hysterically laughing. Fancy going to a restaurant in London and saying you had no money so strolling out. I am sure I have said countless other things making no sense but because most of the time I have been alone, I could not tell you what these blunders have been. I had a good laugh when my fried mistook the word marriage for the word having fun. We joked that she would come home with a Latin husband in her backpack.
So what’s the worst that can happen? You say something a little wrong as I and many other have done repetitively. Better to try and fail than not to try at all. Each time you get words wrong it only helps you learn more. It’s safe to say I am never going to mistake the word man for hunger again.
Top tips for learning a new language:
Practice practice practice – you can learn new words but unless you use them in your everyday life, it will be hard to remember them. The best thing to do is force yourself to speak the new language. Whether it is with strangers in the street, public staff or if you are not in a country speaking the language, you can find people over Skype. There are various websites for this, just have a Google.
Confidence – even if your not confident, pretend to be. You will appear better at languages if you say something confidently. Have faith in yourself you know more than you think you do. Put yourself out there and talk in the new language. There is nothing to lose.
Slow and steady wins the race – there is no harm in talking very slowly, better to do this and be understood, than to speedily reel off a load of words you think are correct. Also don’t be afraid to ask people to speak slowly to you. It will make your life easier.
Always chose to listen to your new language – if there is an option to go on a tour in English or Spanish, go for the latter. Make yourself listen to the new language where ever possible – films, radio, music, TV. Force yourself to be fully emersed in the language. This way you’ll have to learn it or else you won’t understand anything.
Computer programmes – there are many around, some of which are free. Duolingo is a free online resource, where you can learn new languages step by step on a daily basis. You can chose how long you spend a day on the programme and improve your vocabulary. Give ‘Duolingo’ a Google and see for your self.
Enjoy – while it can be a struggle to learn a new language it is important to enjoy what ever you do. So when ever you are faced with a difficulty remember that soon you’ll overcome it and be able to say a full sentence and understand the reply. Enjoy studying fun new words, bonding over learning with new people and laughing at your mistakes.
And finally remember to always smile, it’s universal in all languages.