Tuesday, November 1, 2016

An Open Letter to My Bilingual Friends (Part Two)

Part one here.

I recently decided that I'm going to get my Spanish minor this summer, something I'd previously thought of as impossible due to studying in Sweden for a year. Indeed, it's something that's still totally possible to accomplish, but it's difficult. While in Sweden, I naturally didn't speak much Spanish, which resulted in me losing a lot of the language. In order for me to be ready to take Spanish classes this summer, I have to get back that language that I lost.

In doing so, I ask myself almost daily if I'm being too ambitious and want to give up. I believe that relearning Spanish is the most difficult and exhausting thing I've done in a while. I have Spanish-speaking friends helping me out, texting me in Spanish daily and conducting the occasional conversation in the language. I panic every time they speak to me. When someone says something to me in Spanish, I feel my heart begin to race and I almost always ask the speaker to repeat what they've said in English, even if I understood them. Sometimes I'll put up a fight and try to convince my friends, my teachers, to speak English, even though I know that what they're doing is for my own good.

Basically, at times I feel like I'm in the same boat as plenty of the friends I made in Sweden last year who were not confident in their English speaking abilities as well as some new friends I've made since returning to Maryville. It makes me think that it's time for a second open letter to my bilingual friends, and maybe I'm even talking to myself a bit as well.

Dear bilingual friends,

Do you realise how freaking awesome you are? You probably don't, but that's what I'm here for. It's challenging, perhaps even maddening, to conduct your day-to-day life in a language that still feels foreign to you. Sometimes you might feel like what you're doing is too difficult. Sometimes it might feel easier to just give up.

Don't give up.

Why? Because you're doing great. Sometimes you may think you're doing an awful job, but just remember that we are our own worst critics. It's difficult, but you're doing it, and you should applaud yourself for that.

You're still learning. I understand that and so does everyone else. That's why no one is judging you when you open your mouth to speak or turn on your English keyboard to send a text. And with each day, you're learning new words and phrases and gaining even more fluency in the language. How awesome is that?

It's okay to admit that it's difficult to say some words. It's okay to have an accent. It's okay that you make mistakes. It's okay. You got this. You're doing fine. You're not stupid when you make a mistake; you're brave for trying to speak a foreign language. It's not embarrassing to have an accent; it's courageous to roll unfamiliar words off your lips. I know it's not fun when someone corrects you or when you catch yourself making a mistake, but think of it this was: you're learning, growing, and becoming even better each and every day, and that's nothing you should ever be ashamed of.

What I'm trying to say is everyone starts somewhere.

I think I've about come to the conclusion that everyone that wants to really learn a language has to, at some point, swallow their fears and anxieties and just jump off the deep end and dive into the unknown because that's the way you learn a language. That's really your starting point. It's a long journey, one you and I both know isn't easy, but the end of the road is one worth waiting and working for.

You, my wonderful, fantastic, amazing, and generally awesome bilingual friends, make my life a happier place so it makes me so sad whenever I see you beat yourself up over struggling with the language because, to me, you're doing so great.

So before you apologise for your English - don't. It's not something you should ever be apologising for.

Thanks for everything, friends.

(PS - if someone ever makes you feel bad or ashamed about your English, send them my way and I'll make them feel bad or ashamed for making you feel bad or ashamed about your English)

Lee is exploring with a group of international friends during her year in Sweden.