I’ve been to countries where I speak the main language and I have also been to countries where I can’t even order a water without embarrassing myself. Currently, I am in Mexico as a Spanish student and it is my first time visiting a place where I am learning and practicing the language.
Initially, it was extremely difficult for me to open my mouth and vocalize the Spanish I was so accustomed to reading, writing and hearing. Speaking has been my greatest struggle especially because I pressure myself to speak correctly and quickly like the locals. More often than not, I subconsciously say something in English, then default to Urdu, until finally the Spanish comes out.
The most effective method I discovered to communicating is just speaking and not worrying about conjugating incorrectly or mispronouncing a word. After a few days of speaking with my host family and also with the locals on the streets, I realized that there really is no problem in taking my time and even asking the other person to slow down every once in a while. Being corrected over and over again has also been very helpful in improving my speaking abilities. I have been here for a little over two weeks and both myself and my host mom have noticed a significant improvement in my speech.
The most frustrating aspect for a vocal person like myself is being unable to express my thoughts and feelings as adequately as I am able to do in both English and Urdu. Often, I find myself having to settle for the basic expressions: “how interesting”, “it’s okay” and “I like it” among others. As I continue to learn more elaborate phrases, these will have to suffice as backup.
Although learning a foreign language is definitely a difficult task to accomplish, it is incredibly worthwhile. At the weekly Sunday fiesta downtown, my friends and I listened to a couple’s comedy act, which left me feeling discouraged because they spoke rapidly and I barely understood anything they said when usually my listening and comprehension skills are very good. Then that same day, I had an interaction with an English-speaking foreigner that lifted my spirits. He was standing behind me in line with his kids at a fast food restaurant. I noticed him and the cashier trying to communicate as he struggled to order. I asked him if I could help and eagerly he said yes, so I proceeded to translate his order and afterwards he thanked me several times.
This moment reminded me why I chose to study a foreign language and essentially it is to help others in any way no matter how big or small. I felt redetermined and now I use this point in my trip as motivation to continue practicing and growing in my multilingual pursuits.
I have learned so much about the Mexican lifestyle, Spanish, and of course, the interconnectedness of humans around the world in such a short amount of time. There is no telling what other experiences lie ahead in this vibrant and lively country.