The Benefits of Struggling to Learn Spanish

10 Aug

The New York Times recently posted an op-ed called The Benefits of Failing at French. I can relate.

In 1973, with the already aging brain (linguistically speaking) of twenty-one, I began the lifelong journey of learning a second language. I came to Mexico in the fulfillment of a childhood dream to experience my junior year abroad. I lived with a Mexican family who spoke no English. I had classes four hours a day, four days a week and drank mucho cerveza to loosen the tongue. Over the long weekends and breaks, I traveled as much as possible and fell in love with a culture and people that were difficult to explain when I returned to New Jersey.

Sunset in Cozumel.

Sunset in Cozumel.

In the more than forty years that have passed, I have both clung to and completely forgotten my desire to return to Mexico. As I began entertaining thoughts of retirement, memories of living here ignited fireworks and the rest is, shall we say, her-story.

Crossing the border almost a year ago woke the Spanish synapses that were more than a bit rusty. Those old feelings of my brain aching and not being able to remember words in either language came roaring back. I am happy to report that my Spanish has greatly improved in a year. I have resisted studying and have chosen to learn by practicing. I have conversations in Spanish as often as I can and find that my brain hurts less these days. Yesterday I even had a conversation on the phone, which I usually avoid, as there is no opportunity to read lips. I must admit that when friends comment on my improvement, I want to preen my feathers and crow.

Hotel La Semilla in Playa del Carmen from our recent visit.

Hotel La Semilla in Playa del Carmen from our recent visit.

Lisa had no ability to speak Spanish, other than the curse words picked up on a job site, when we arrived last September. Her first vocabulary words were highway signs on the drive down. Her learning approach has been different from mine. She uses a popular set of educational CDs and a workbook that I bought her. She now converses with locals and orders easily in a restaurant. The reason for her skill is that she doesn’t give up and she isn’t afraid to make mistakes. Our friend’s parents call her the parrot because she uses her thirty or so words, hugs them and leaves. They see her progress and love her effort. More than one of us has something to crow about.

Sunrise this week on Laguna Bacalar.

Sunrise this week on Laguna Bacalar.

So I recommend that you read the New York Times article and don’t miss the comments. Our brains need the challenge. Our changing world needs us to understand one another. What better way than to learn another’s language. And I’ve heard that the third language even gets easier, no matter what age you are.


12 Responses to “The Benefits of Struggling to Learn Spanish”

  1. LJones August 10, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    What a delightful article! I am inspired…going to my first Spanish immersion in October in Merida. Can’t wait and hope I’m ready to make a bunch of mistakes! Do you recommend this lovely looking hotel in Playa? Rates? See you this fall! Blessings, L


    • afish25 August 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

      Loved the hotel and highly recommend. La


      • Patricia De la Sierra August 10, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

        Being a professional translator, interpeter, all I recommend is practice, practice and more practice. Nobody cares about our mistakes, but everybody loves our efforts. I love foreigners trying to speak Spanish here in Mexico, and I love it too, when Americans understand my “primitive” English. Trying is the main issue…


      • afish25 August 13, 2014 at 6:39 am #

        Your English is anything but primitive! Thanks for your comments. A


  2. Trish Callahan August 10, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    I can totally relate. Even though I’m in Texas not Mexico, I started out the summer nervously trying to practice Spanish with anyone I could for my upcoming bilingual job and I just got bolder and bolder and enjoyed it more and more. I am a lot more confident now and can tell my Spanish has improved and I am having fun! I also meet a lot of other Americans who don’t speak Spanish that well, but try anyway because they like it and they want to get better. Their courage has inspired me.


  3. emilievardaman August 11, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    I will be reading the NYT article soon. Thanks. I struggle with Spanish mostly because I don’t spend enough time in Mexico. I hope to rectify that after my house sells!


    • afish25 August 11, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

      No effort is wasted. Don’t wait!


  4. Kathy August 12, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    Alex: I really enjoy reading your posts. Your photos are fabulous. What does “dos Tortas” mean. I looked it up in a Spanish dictionary and it means literally “2 cakes.” Is that a Spanish idiom? What exactly does it mean in English terms? I love the Optimist quote especially about the cha cha? I dance ballroom, swing and Latin so I can relate. I am wondering if you would be willing to talk with me over Skype? Do you have Skype? My Skype address is kathydillon2826. I’d like to touch base with you about my move to Latin America and about Real Love stuff. A no answer is a good answer if you don’t wish to do that. Kathy Dillon (from Canada) and hoping to relocate to Latin America in a year or so



  5. judyleaver September 2, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    Your blog was recommended to me by Karen Flowers…who I knew as Karen Knox waaay back in Tulsa OK! I love reading this and am going to take the liberty of sending you a very similar post I wrote after my 4 week Spanish immersion in Tulum this past June. Great experience and very humbling!


    • afish25 September 2, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      I look forward to reading it. Karen and I don’t quite go back that far, lol. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll continue to follow the blog. Comments always appreciated.


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