I started taking Spanish lessons again.
In the months leading up to Christmas, I let my classes fall the wayside and decided to rely on the fact that I lived in a Spanish speaking country (Mexico) to help me learn the language. Boy, was that a mistake.
I’ve talked about my experiences learning Spanish before on this site but I think it’s important to revisit some of the benefits of learning another language. Afterall, in these days of Google Translate and other services, it’s easy to forget those benefits, especially for those of us who come from English speaking countries.
As discussed here in the Collegiate Times, there’s a theory of mind development, which basically boils down to a child’s understanding of the mind. Different experiences lead to different thoughts and a different accumulation of knowledge. Development in these areas happens faster for bilinguals. Additionally, executive functions are heightened in those who speak more than one language, boosting memory, attention, and cognitive flexibility.
They also discuss on the article how learning different languages expose us to different ways of thinking about grammar and syntax. This can actually lead to a stronger basis in the speaker’s native tongue. I can personally attest to this. Learning Spanish has made me think about how and why language works the way it does to the point where I often exasperated expressions on my friends’ faces as I ask them another mostly trivial question about Spanish. For the record, it’s my experience that most people don’t know the etymology of words off the top of their head in any language.
It’s also causing me to dig deeper into English in many ways. I’m currently reading two books, a children's’ book in Spanish and an English translation of an Eduardo Galleano book. In the former I was looking up the word rasguño - “scratch” in English - while my English book had me searching the definition for “usufruct” (“the right of enjoying all the advantages derivable from the use of something that belongs to another, as far as is compatible with the substance of the thing not being destroyed or injured” according to Dictionary.com). Now, I’m much more like to remember rasaguño (and use it in a sentence) than usufruct, but learning is a self-perpetuating thing. For example, t’s pretty common when you encounter a difficult word in your own language to take the gist of it and move on but learning a second language has gotten me in the habit of looking up words I don’t know. Hence “usufruct.”
There are, of course, additional benefits to learning up another language. It opens all kinds of doors. Not the least of which comes with travel. You’re more likely to see and experience more of a local culture if you can speak the language. You’ll find the good places to eat, the cool bars, the local beach spots, the best dance spots. Barriers just begin to fall down.
Heck, think of all the new markets and partners that could be available if we spoke another language!
Immersion Isn’t Enough
There’s an old episode of the Simpsons where Bart gets sent to France on some sort of exchange program to help improve his behavior. While there he is neglected and abused by his hosts but he has no recourse because he can’t speak the language. Until one day he wakes up and, just through sheer immersion, is suddenly fluent in French and can go to the police. Even though it’s obviously a joke, I think that too many people believe something like that could happen to them.
For a long time I’ve relied too heavily on the fact that I live in Mexico to help me learn Spanish, hoping that one day I will wake up and be fluent just like Bart Simpson. But as is often the case -- the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. And so, my rededication to learning Spanish by way of classes and books.
The point is, that even when we think we’re in a great position to learn something new, we still need to put in the work. For example, someone may be a great programmer in their youth but, having rested on their laurels too long, wake up one day to realize they’ve been left behind by the industry. Learning isn’t a thing that stops when we finish school. It’s a continuing effort to see as much of the world as we can. And despite the hard work and constant frustration, it’s been worth it.
Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday or so, he offers views about his adopted hometown — his personal Dispatches from Mexico City. Oh, but sometimes he pops up in his home nation of Canada.