verb: learn or develop (a skill, habit, or quality)
For my 39th year of life, I set upon the business of acquiring a new language. Surely, all those hours spent in high school and college conjugating Spanish verbs and memorizing Spanish vocabulary would simply flood back to my memory. Since I spent years in the teaching profession, the majority of my life has revolved around academia, and learning a new language was just another task to add to my long list of academic success.
I left for my new language assimilation adventure completely excited about the opportunity to become bi-lingual. I attacked my first few classes with vigor, noting how easily the vocabulary and basic Spanish came back. I felt sorry for those around me who struggled with lesser background knowledge than me (i.e. Keith). This task before me was somewhat daunting yet clearly conquerable.
Yeah, right!!!!! After about 3 weeks of class, I realized the vastness of learning a language. How could I have underestimated this length and breadth and depth of words in another language? How would I ever understand and implement the nuances of another culture’s communication? Not only did I wrestle with the task that loomed before me, I suddenly realized that my brain as a 39-year-old didn’t learn things quite as fast as it did when I was 18. I had to study — a lot. I forgot — things I had just learned 30 minutes earlier. I said the wrong things — over and over. I spoke in sentences — that were quickly corrected by my teacher. Needless to say, it wasn’t going quite as I had planned.
The reality of learning a language can only be fully appreciated by those who need to acquire one. There’s no way to describe the complete loss of pride, the humility, and ever-constant brain tension required to simply speak. Words fail me so often when trying to explain exactly how one can feel when sitting amidst a group of people who do not share your native tongue. It’s akin to playing badminton, charades, Clue®, while searching the Webster’s American Heritage Dictionary and then cross-referencing it with Spanish dictionary. In two words: Mentally Exhausting.
Recently, while watching one of my favorite movies, I found a perfect example of the beginning days of learning a language (as well as the many, many, many days that follow). Keep your eyes on the father in the middle of the two female family members. His facial expressions alone will allow you to see the battle between the complete idiocy and genius one feels, when it comes to understanding a language so very different from your own.