I don’t know what hit me in the head into my 20’s that made me start telling people I am not any good at languages, but I built on that notion until it became a real psychological barrier. ‘How did it get so deep?!’ I hear you ask. The short and simple answer is: me.
In the 1st – 3rd years of secondary school, French was a compulsory subject. I loved it, wanted to give it a shot and for my efforts, remember being 2nd from top in the class. But then came Subject Options in the 4th Year – French was pitted against Drama in the Subject Options Table – I’m sure you can guess what subject I chose. Bang went my language learning and with that, I believe, the beginning of my diminishing confidence in learning languages.
Fast forward my mid-20s. I developed a healthy appetite for two things: travelling and having diverse friends form all around the world. I began mixing in environments where people either expect you to speak a 2nd language or to try and say a few foreign words on occasion. My ego couldn’t stand the shame of getting it wrong – no matter how much I was coaxed – I’d not try at all, digging my heels in. My best friend travelled with me and fearlessly tried the language of each place we visited. To me, he sounded like he was speaking English with a Sesame-Street-style-fool-fool-accent! I was in no place to laugh, but my caricature sense of humour would want to drop on the floor laughing, saying “you sound like a heediat!” Projecting much? I think I was.
The compounding element was deciding to take up learning to dance salsa. It’s been the love of my life for 5 years! Some of my best friends are now Latin. Over the past five years, they have invited me to many family events, where the guests don’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish. So what do I do in those situations? Dance like no-one’s watching!!! Woi!!! It worked for the most part – its funny being the enigmatic Caribbean-British Black man who can dance like a Columbian but not talk like one.
Oh and it gets worse – there is Cuban form of salsa called Rueda (meaning wheel), where a Caller stands outside of an inner and outer circle of dancers (couples) and calls out formula dance moves in – yes you’ve guessed – Spanish. The couples respond by dancing each called out move in synchronisation. I look at people dancing Rueda like a lost puppy wanting saving.
In January of this year, when I was making my determinations for the year ahead, it hit me that, whilst I pride myself on not accepting negative aspects in my life, I had owned a negative in the shape of proclaiming with pride “I don’t do languages for many years”. I realised how ignorant I must’ve sounded and I declared that it was time to start learning. My mouth needed to match the ability of my feet.
Many of my Spanish and Spanish-speaking friends recommended Instituto Cervantes as the blest place inLondon to learn the language. The Absolute Beginners course stated after the Easter break. Attending the class felt as if I had was stood on the stage in a shopping mall in my knickers, where Gok Wan unforgivingingly picked me apart (all in my totally warped mind, of course). But I did it, self-declaring 3 things to my excellent, mouth-wateringly gorgeous teacher, Adrián, also to the other students: 1) I am at Absolutely-Can’t-Speak-a-Rhatid-Word-Level; 2) I have a real barrier to learning languages that I am trying to break down; 3) if you laugh at me I will cry. I stuck with it and completed the 10-week course, amazing myself that I was able to fully understand the concepts, although I sill had some way to go on making those words naturally flow through to my mouth. I still needed lots of (continual) work to break through this bastard of a learning-curve.
Then, along came help in the form of an angel called David. He is a friend of a friend who’d heard about my plight (how much do you want to bet my Latin friends had been sitting in a bar somewhere having a laugh at my expense? Watch me and them O_o). He teaches Spanish for a living and unlike my worthless Latin friends who’d never helped, he invited me to become his protégé, where he’d give me weekly 121 tutorials. How blessed, perfect & humbling was that?!! My 121s with David are fantastic! Each week we do drills, breaking down and properly understanding the concepts and I try to speak more. I’m so much better with nobody watching – David takes me at my own pace, yet he pushes me. The barrier is coming down slowly.
They say it takes a few years to learn a language, even with tons of practice. I know it’s not my natural skill, but I’m going to keep at this – I’m determined, even if it takes yonks, I will speak fluent Spanish. It’s become a mini-obsession – so typical of me! Ha! My Spanish Beginners II course at Instituto Cervantes starts in September, so alongside my 121s with David, and my 121s with Diego – a gym mate who has offered to meet weekly for coffee and to practice – I’ll give my language-learning-barrier a run for it’s money!
SpiritedStrength = daily life driven by: • heart • realness • liberation • purpose • learning • happiness
I look back at this now and regret the 28 years I spent holding onto a negative – all I had to do was self-declare how difficult it is for me and to try to any way. Still, I’m glad the penny dropped when it did. It’s hard breaking-down my real inability, alongside my psychological challenges, but I’m trying really hard. I keep telling people that I’m going to end up working as the Spanish Interpreter on Miss World, translating English to the Spanish Speaking nation, live by satellite link, with jacked up make-up & a fuckery bouffant. At which point they normally fall out laughing. See it’s a good thing I’ve developed a thick skin about this learning shit.