Today was my last day of Spanish class. And, before you ask, no, I am not fluent. Not even close.
I am significantly more advanced than I was when I arrived in Bogotá six and a half months ago. But I still have a long way to go.
Learning in a school for non-native speakers is great, until it isn’t. One reason (among many) that I am not fluent is that the teachers speak slowly, clearly, and using simple language. Most Colombians and Argentines I encounter outside of school do none of these things. The basic task of deciphering the words they are speaking is difficult, and that is before I try to comprehend the meaning.
I still have a hard time speaking fluidly because I stop to consider which verb tense to use (Spanish has many more than English) and then I have to conjugate the verb. For the rest of the sentence, I have to remember so many things: which nouns are feminine and which are masculine (thank goodness nouns in English do not have genders) and adjust the adjectives to agree, which word to use to express “for” (por or para), and which verb to use to express “to be” (ser or estar). Thank goodness my teachers are very patient.
For my Spanish to reach the next level, I would need to immerse myself completely. I could do this by getting a job and/or living in a place where no one speaks English. Another thought is to take classes at a Latin America university.
I also would need to severely limit the amount of time I spend living in English. When I am alone, I pass a lot of my time reading books or online articles and listening to books and podcasts, all in English. I have read a few books (very slowly) in Spanish, which has helped my vocabulary and grammar. But watching the local news and listening to local news radio a little bit each day has not done much to improve my skills.
I am not sure what the next steps are. I need to decide how much time and effort I want to put into maintaining what I have learned and improving upon it. I have lots of grand ideas about continuing to study once I am back in the US. Realistically, most of those ideas will never get off the ground, or if they do, they probably will crash back down quickly.
It has been a long time since I was a student for more than an afternoon workshop. I can look back and see the process and progress—things built on each other and connected. I have challenged myself and my brain in new ways. I have put effort into expressing my thoughts and ideas. And hopefully I have accrued some of the benefits that research shows multi-lingual people have.
Do I wish I had more mastery? Of course. But regardless of what happens with my Spanish abilities in the future, I think the time has been well spent.
My experience by the numbers:
- Different schools I attended: 3
- Total weeks studying: 19
- Total class hours: 374
- Beginning level: A2
- Ending level: C2
- Verb tenses learned: 14