I remember thinking in my teenage years that it would be a waste of time to try to learn Spanish, or in fact any other language than English. In my native country of Sweden we do have to take either Spanish, French, or German for several years, but few seem to be able to produce more than the most basic phrases after graduation. I was no better, in fact, I was worse! However, I managed to barely pass my Spanish classes (thanks to an unreasonably generous teacher) but dropped out as soon as I could, which is ironic considering how my life would later on unfold.
A few years later, love brought me to the tropical paradise that is Costa Rica. My girlfriend at the time and I had decided to get away from the cold and move to her homeland. I knew that English wouldn’t really serve me that well there and that I would have to learn Spanish. However, I discovered that learning Spanish came to me about ten times easier in Costa Rica than in Sweden. In hindsight I think I can attribute it to three very important factors:
motivation, necessity, and constant practice. These are very hard to find when learning a foreign language in your home country.
I’m not only talking about the necessity to be able to communicate with a taxi driver or a cashier. As human beings (especially blabbermouths like me) we have a need to express ourselves constantly! I remember being so frustrated when I was trying to tell a story, and with everyone listening courteously, failing to even make myself understood, never mind any type of humoristic punchline. This mix of shame and frustration motivated me to look up and try to correct everything that I failed at in my daily Spanish.
I quickly became quite fluent, albeit in a strange way. Things that I hadn’t had to say, I never learned. For example, I remember having a conversation, and in the end wanting to suggest to my friend that we meet on Thursday, only to realize I had no idea what half of the weekdays were called. I think it’s safe to say that I might have benefited a bit from some actual teaching to complement my self-taught Spanish.
After about a year I went back to Sweden, did some soul searching, and decided to enter the foreign languages and linguistics program at my university. There I filled a lot of my gaps in my grammar, and perhaps increased my academic and literary vocabulary, but I was disappointed with the pace of improvement. I felt like I’d gone from rocket speed to tricycle speed. Fortunately, we were given the opportunity to take one month of studies away from snowy Sweden, and come to study Spanish culture and learn Spanish at CLIC Sevilla. Here I thought that I got the best of both worlds. The constant real-life practicing combined with professional teachers that would correct me where needed was a great mix.
Having gotten a taste for the Latin languages, I soon wanted more! I spent a summer in France and a whole semester in Brazil expanding my language skills. During my last year in Sweden I worked part time as a translator and interpreter (working with Spanish and Portuguese) while finishing my studies. Finally I wound up interning, and even working here at CLIC Sevilla. The teenage version of me could never have guessed that learning Spanish actually would wind up giving me the most amazing opportunities, as well as shaping both my professional and personal life.