When I noticed my English was picking up in Ireland, I knew it was time to think seriously about my Spanish. “Shame on you, Patricia”, my mind used to repeat every time I tried to chat to a native speaker without success. Even though English was my priority at that moment, I couldn’t help feeling upset with the fact that I’ve never learned the language of Cervantes as well as I should. My level is not that horrible, but it’s way far from my English, for example.
I began to learn Spanish when I was 14. With the birth of Mercosul, the Southern Common Market, my school decided to invest on the language of our neighbours. We had a Brazilian teacher, a serious and demanding woman. Although English was my preference, I enjoyed the newness and the chance of learning something more appealing than Maths or Chemistry. Some things I learned by heart – I never forgot that Wednesday is Miércoles because it was our day of having the subject. However, as I moved to another school at the end of that year and I couldn’t afford paying private language classes, I stopped studying.
To access university, I chose English as the foreign tongue because I’d had more contact with it during my life. When I got a better salary (still a misery) in a newspaper where I used to work, I registered in a modest school in order to get a better CV. Spanish? No plans (and money) for something else.
The language came up again when I started working in a newspaper with strong connections with Latin American themes. One of my functions was to translate articles (some of them were enormous) from Spanish to Portuguese. Fortunately, the tongues are similar, so you can understand the ideas quite easily (my friends used to help me when something too difficult appeared in the text). Little by little, I gained more responsibility, and I began to do some interviews in Spanish.
In 2010, I travelled to Colombia to cover an international meeting about violence in the country. For my own surprise, I could survive there without any trouble. Whether to do an interview or talk to local people, things turned out very well. Some people even praised my Spanish. I also learned a lot along the conferences and journeys. Colombian people are marvellous, so they helped me to increase my vocabulary a lot during my ten-day trip. I was excited not only about being abroad for the first time, but also with the idea that I could speak some Spanish. A horrible accent, a nonsense Grammar, but it was much better than I’d imagined.
At home again, I decided to go ahead. Instead of enrolling in a course (expensive idea), I bought a book to study on my own. It seemed more serious than just watching some classes through YouTube. Grammar is one of my weak points, so I went for a book with the suggestive name “Grammar and Practice for Brazilians”. It has 100 short chapters, so in theory it’d be useful to keep me motivated. However, the overload of work and a disorganized routine resulted in less time and eventually I quit Spanish one more time.
Everybody knows that you get rusty if don’t practise a skill, so imagine what happened since then. When I travelled to Spain last November, the words seemed locked in my brain. Due to laziness, I preferred to speak English in the beginning. I was embarrassed but inept to change it. At least before Madrid, where I was forced to use Spanish with my mother’s friend who couldn’t communicate in English. Apart from mixing all the languages that I know in one or other phrase, the conversation was enough to make me feel more confident. In Barcelona, my next stop, I committed myself not to speak English outside the hostel (sometimes I forgot and I said “hi” automatically, what used to ruin the mission). As well as Colombian people, Spanish people encouraged me to keep talking It’s something obvious, but I need to repeat, especially to myself: The main problem is to overcome your fear of speaking. When you realize you won’t die, you calm down and enjoy the idea of chatting to everyone.
Now I try to boost my third language for the third time. I don’t know precisely my level, but I’d say I’m sort of Intermediate learner. I’m fed up with this game of starting and quitting, so I’m determined to jump to Advanced level. If all goes well, I hope I will have improved my skills considerably until the end of the year. After all, a trip in South America is part of my next plans and dreams.