Today marks a big anniversary celebration for me. Two years ago today I started weekly, lunchtime, virtual, private Spanish grammar and conversation lessons. It was 13 September 2021 and one-and-a-half years into the COVID Pandemic. While I thrive telecommuting and regularly need a lot of alone time, having so much isolation at this stage in the Pandemic was hitting me hard. Not seeing my friends, especially at genealogy conferences and institutes, was making me depressed. So I decided to start working towards some major goals to help me fend off depression. Getting back to my Spanish language learning was one of those goals.
Wanting More than Just Getting By
Becoming more proficient in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing Spanish has been a longtime desire of mine. I took a couple years of Spanish in high school and a few years of conversation in college. But then I rarely used it so of course lost much of that progress. All through high school and college Spanish classes I had major hangups about speaking Spanish in front of others who were native or fluent in Spanish. It was my own insecurities. Then the more years that passed after those last classes, the more insecure I became about it. I could still “get by” when needed, including when traveling to Mexico and Spain, but with a lot of Spanglish and pantomiming thrown in. I did pretty well reading Spanish-language church and civil registers for my genealogy research and teaching due to the rote boilerplate nature of those records, but I knew I needed to up my Spanish language game to more thoroughly analyze those and other records.
I had every opportunity to keep practicing and learning Spanish on my own after those college classes, but I didn’t take those opportunities. Mostly due to those insecurities and hangups. I live and work in southern California, which has always had a huge Spanish speaking population. My father, who was raised by his Mexican immigrant grandmother, grew up fluent in Spanish and continued to use it daily in his professional work as an engineer. My mostly Irish mother does not speak a word of Spanish, and she stayed home with us growing up, so my siblings and I did not learn and speak Spanish growing up. But Dad would have gladly talked Spanish with me. I just never took him up on that. Again, I know now this was due to my own insecurities and hangups about trying to speak Spanish.
Fast forward to the Pandemic. I needed some challenging life-changing goals to stave off that isolation depression.
My Spanish Classes
When I put my mind to something, I go at it full force. I am not a patient person, so I did not want to go through the slow process of traditional college Spanish classes even though I am a librarian at a university where I can take classes for free. I wanted an accelerated program, private lessons customized to my level and progress, and virtual classes.
Being a librarian, I did a lot of research into programs. The program I decided upon is the Spanish Institute based here in southern California. I liked the wide variety of group and private classes they offer and that their prices are posted on the website. The reviews I found online (not just on their website) speak highly of the program. I also liked how quickly I received a response to my inquiries.
Within a few days of sending my inquiry I had my first class, on 13 September 2021, with Monica. Monica “Moni” is an exceptional teacher. She is so warm and friendly and immediately put me at ease. We do a lot of laughing during my learning, but she also pushes me hard on my grammar, which is exactly what I need. Moni and I have been meeting weekly during lunch breaks from my day job work, with the exception of weeks when I am on vacation, or when I am teaching or attending research institutes courses. In those situations, she has been very flexible with rescheduling my sessions.
I have been amazed at my progress over these past two years. I can confidently say that I have grown from being able to “get by” when traveling to now being proficient in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing Spanish. On top of my weekly private classes, I immerse myself in some type of Spanish language learning nearly every day. Boosting proficiency takes a lot of regular work, but it is also a lot of fun. I do not consider myself fluent, but that is definitely my ultimate goal.
More Confident as a Spanish Speaker
And what about my hangups and insecurities with speaking Spanish? Those are gone. Don’t get me wrong. I still get shy and nervous at times. I often have to ask native or fluent speakers to please speak more slowly. I still have to mix in English words at times with a “¿Cómo se dice [insert English word or phrase]?” (How do you say…. ?). My brain still has to work really hard to remember vocabulary and grammar, especially those verb tenses. I have to depend heavily upon context to make out unknown words or phrases when listening to or reading Spanish. But it all comes much more naturally to me now. More importantly though, I have come to understand that native and fluent Spanish speakers immediately recognize that I am trying to learn the language, and they will help me if I am willing to make those attempts. And particularly when traveling, which I do often down to Baja California, Mexico, native Spanish speakers recognize that I am trying to communicate in their language as a sign of respect, so they always slow down for me and try to help me.
What are some of your long-term genealogy related goals? I’d love to hear those if you want to post them as a comment to this post.