The joy of learning a foreign language

Arjun Thakkar

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Despite our many different backgrounds, there exists a great uniter, one that helps us reconcile our differences, and that commonality is language. It’s through communication that we learn, we talk, we laugh, and, most importantly, we express ourselves.

Learning a language, even the first time, is a process of trial and error, like learning that “I is” should be “I am,” or encountering unfamiliar words. As a result, when inexperienced children are speaking, they’re very focused on what they’re saying because their vocabulary is limited as is. As we grow older and more experienced, we don’t think as much about the nitty gritty parts of language as they’re second nature.

Unfortunately, this familiarity that we acquire with one language can serve as a turnoff for learning to speak in a different tongue, especially when we have no incentive to speak a seemingly useless foreign language. Unless you live in a house where you have to speak a different language, it’s preferable to be comfortable within a language that we already know well enough.

It’s that unfamiliarity, though, that I find makes foreign languages so much more captivating than English.

I’ll be the first to admit that it can be irritating to comprehend what others say in a different language. I grew up in a family that speaks Gujarati, an Indian language that I can listen to all day yet still struggle to speak.

Whenever I attempt to speak in Gujarati with relatives, they defer to my parents to figure out what I’m trying to tell them. Not the best feeling to need a third party to translate for you.

While my experiences in Gujarati have been iffy thus far, I can say that the opposite is true for Spanish. You know that feeling you got as a child when you lost a toy and then found it months later? That’s how it felt to start learning Spanish.

Even though I’m confident that a toddler from a Spanish-speaking country could school me without hesitation, that extra thinking is what I enjoy most about the language. Unlike English, I have to be more deliberate in a non-familiar tongue like Spanish, which makes it satisfying to grow over time.

I recall wanting to buy a candy at a young age and asking my mom what to say to the man behind the counter. After she laughed and told me, I memorized her words and practiced over and over.

It’s the same process that occurs in learning a new language, albeit at an older and age. We memorize certain useful phrases like “May I go to the bathroom,” and ideally they become ingrained in our memory and part of daily vocabulary.

When I say something in English as I intended to, it’s nothing special because that’s expected, whereas in Spanish I’m anticipating an error or two, making it all the more gratifying to successfully say what I wanted to.

Call me a try-hard or a nerd if you want, but I get a real kick out of trying to maintain a conversation in a different language, especially if it’s something new and difficult. I find that explaining something complex in simpler words, like I have to in Spanish, can clarify the situation and make it easier to wrap my head around it.

That appreciation extends into other mediums of entertainment as well, like reading Spanish stories and listening to Spanish music. And no, that doesn’t mean my favorite song is “Despacito.” Although I do recommend “Yo No Me Doy Por Vencido” by the same artist.

While listening to music in a language we’re not fluent in, we hear bits and pieces, words that we know and words that sound similar. Every time I listen to a song by Juanes or Residente, I learn a new word that I then apply into my Spanish work and thinking, enhancing the language.

This might sound weird, but I hope I never become fluent. If I do, it’ll become commonplace and lose its many unique charms and quirks.

Another language is definitely not for everyone, I get that frustrating.

But please, in a new language, don’t be like the p in pterodactyl: silent.

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