In my final thoughts on the language learning series, the first one being David’s 10 Steps to Adult Language Learning and the second, Language Learning – The Mental Part, in this blog I will talk about being accepted as a speaker of your non-native tongue, which in my opinion is the hardest part.
It took me a very long time to accept myself that I was a speaker of Spanish as well as a speaker of English. Why was this acceptance so tricky? There are many reasons, and I shall focus here on a few that I believe you will be able to relate.
In my mind (I think in the mind of some others too), I did not look the part. Really? Yes, I did not believe that I looked like a Spanish speaker. Okay, yes, I know this was silly however it was real to me for a long time. Here is why I had this thought. I would be in South Texas, for example, go into a store where there would be a mixture of English and Spanish speakers. The clerk would attend to the person in front of me in line and speak Spanish. When my turn came, the clerk would immediately switch to English. What was it about me that caused this? Was it my hair, or lack thereof? Was it my skin tone? My facial features? I just knew it was something about me that was preventing me from being accepted, and I will add that it was frustrating.
For years, and I am talking a lot of years not just a few, I studied the Spanish language, much more than I had ever studied my native English. I graduated from the Metropolitan State University of Denver with a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Languages – Spanish. I studied at numerous schools in other countries, such as Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, and this wasn’t just a once in a while occurrence. I spent hundreds of hours at these foreign language schools over the years, and thousands of hours working with private tutors to perfect my Spanish language skills. Still, for some reason, I did not feel that I others were accepting me as an actual speaker of Spanish.
The more frustrated I would get at not being accepted, the more I would study. This was my coping mechanism. I was determined to prove that yes, I was a Spanish speaker and a damn good Spanish speaker. Why was this need to be accepted so important? Looking back, I haven’t a clue. All I know is that it was real. I needed others, and when I say others, I am referring to native Spanish speakers, to accept me. Was this ever going to happen?
Another example for you. I would be in a situation with Spanish speakers, and we would be conversing in Spanish. All would be going great, or so I thought. The conversation was flowing and then bam!, someone (not me) would use a word in English and then all of a sudden everyone is Speaking English. My first thought? Why? What did ‘I’ do to cause this? Was my syntax off? Did I make a grammatical error? Were there pronunciation mistakes on my part? Later I would spend hours reviewing the entire scenario in my mind trying to determine the exact moment that the conversation changed from Spanish to English and the reason.
Immediately I would go back to my comfort zone –studying. I hired multiple coaches to help me perfect my pronunciation, and each time we would start from the very beginning reviewing every single sound. I would go back to my tutors and review syntax, grammar rules and vocabulary. All of my free time was dedicated (actually obsessed, to be honest) to Spanish. I would only read Spanish books. I would spend hours watching Spanish Telenovelas (Soap Operas), movies and listening to Spanish music. Just a little more, and soon I will be accepted as a Spanish speaker, or so I thought.
Finally, and I am guessing by now that you knew this was coming, I found the answer as to why I was not accepted as a Spanish speaker. The hours and hours of studying, although it elevated my Spanish language skills to that of a native Spanish speaker, and in fact higher than some native Spanish speakers, it did not get me accepted. Neither did all of those hours of watching movies and listening to Spanish music, although I must admit that I did enjoy this time a lot more than memorizing grammar rules. The answer, pure and simple? It was me.
To be accepted as a Spanish speaker, and this took me many years to learn, I had to accept myself as a speaker of the Spanish language. Do I make mistakes? Of course! My Spanish isn’t perfect, and neither is my English. Who hasn’t made an error in their mother tongue? Do you think it will be different in your second language? We are human. We make mistakes. Just like me, you are going to use a wrong word now and then, mispronounce something, not understand what someone else is saying. These mistakes happen in whatever language you are using, not only your second language.
My advice? Work hard on your language skills. Learn as much as you can and never stop learning. Go for perfection but realize that it is a moving target. When you are ready, and you will know when this happens, accept yourself as a speaker of your second language. Love the language. Speak the language. Most importantly, live the language. It is, after all, your language now.
David Martin Tucker, Certified Spanish Medical Interpreter, CHI™, or “Spanish David” as he is known, is a certified medical interpreter whose passion for Latin American culture and language is second only to his desire to become a voice for his Spanish speaking clients. Conveying more than words, David’s continuous thirst for knowledge thrusts him into the culture of his clients.
David is an honor’s graduate from the Southern California School of Interpreting’s Medical Interpreter Program, and holds bachelor degrees in both Modern Languages (Spanish) and Business from Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of Southern Indiana respectively.
A founding member of the El Puente Bilingual Toastmasters in Denver, David is also a contributor to the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), and is a member of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Health Care Patient Advisory Board.