Five years ago I finished my HSC and thought I was done writing about journeys. Today, I’m sat down and writing about journeys yet again.
In 2012 (March-August), I lived in Germany on a semester exchange at the University of Cologne. I was there to study and live in German but it’s actually where my Spanish language journey began.
I say this even though I’d actually done 2 years of Spanish classes in 2009-10. I didn’t like the teachers, though, I wasn’t compelled to use the language, and I lacked motivation and direction. The difference in Cologne was that I was meeting dozens of Spanish-speaking Erasmus students. Unsatisfied with speaking just English to them, I wanted to connect with them on another level, perhaps even be accepted into their group. I can’t say I succeeded. After repeatedly trying and failing to conjure up the Spanish I’d long forgotten I didn’t make much headway (i.e. friends). I was deflated.
In the Easter break I even travelled to Eastern Europe with a Sevillana. We didn’t know each other very well but both wanted to go to the same places. I suppose it was an arrangement of convenience from the off. It stayed that way – we didn’t really bond at all on despite our exotic and exciting surroundings. It felt as if there was some sort of cultural barrier preventing us from evolving our amicable relations into an actual friendship. After returning to Cologne, the Sevillana and I disappeared from each other’s lives. Maybe it was me?
When semester finished I had some time to travel before returning to Sydney so I flew Seville to meet my friend Edwin. I think it was in the stifling Andalusian summer heat when my interest in Spanish language and culture was properly rekindled. Wandering through Seville’s labyrinthine streets, exploring the Alhambra and Albayzin of Granada, that view of the Mediterranean Sea in Malaga, discovering the secrets of busy Barcelona… Something about being there helped me regain my confidence and forget about the hispanohablantes I didn’t hit it off with in Cologne. I think the spark of inspiration is yet to leave me.
Since returning home I have been practicing Spanish solidly and I can now say with confidence that I am a Spanish speaker myself. I think the positive emotions, self-confidence and intrinsic interest in the language and culture were crucial in keeping me motivated. Comparatively, I think the fact that Spanish is supposed to be an ‘easy’ language had little to do with my success – just remember how I struggled to learn it in 2009-10!
Takeaway: Success in language learning often comes down to motivation, which lends itself to dedication through time. It was crucial for me that I was intrinsically driven to learn Spanish. After some earlier setbacks, I emerged emotionally invested in the language, remained self-confident, and enjoyed the process.