Language Learning as Privilege

I have been in the process of learning Spanish full time for the past five months. Mostly that has consisted of four hours a day of one-on-one conversation and grammar lessons with homework and practice outside of class. And it has been tiring. With one-on-one lessons there is no time to relax, or to let someone else talk, or to turn to a classmate and sneak in a sentence of English. It required my full attention and extra concentration to keep my brain speaking/listening/learning in Spanish for four straight hours a day. And after four months of that (really after a month or two) it became a chore. It wasn’t something that I was SUPER excited about getting up every morning to go do, because most days it was frustrating. I still wasn’t understanding the subjunctive tense, and I couldn't get the difference between por and para, and it was just annoying that the words for ham and soap are so similar (jamón and jabón, respectively).

About this time I also read an article on Velvet Ashes, a blog and online community for women living overseas. This particular article was titled, “A Letter to Language Learners” and it hit home:

But for all of us, the ability to communicate in another language – to converse with people on a deeper level, on their terms (and using their terms) is first and foremost a privilege.

How true this is. What I am getting to do, studying someone else’s heart language, is a privilege. No, it does not always feel like a privilege as I am struggling through using the past tense correctly, but regardless of how I am feeling on a particular day I am trying to remember that the fact remains that it is a privilege and for this I should be grateful.

After a few months of language school some things began clicking. I went a whole day using por and para in the right contexts. I even said, “I washed my hands with soap” instead of ham, without having to think about it! And with the small successes I rejoiced. Don’t worry, before I got too overconfident, the next week I asked one of my language teachers if they bought a leather mattress, thinking we were talking about couches. So as I learn and have some victories, I am continually being humbled again and again by this privilege I am getting.

Again from the post:

Learn before teaching; listen before talking.

We live in Peru. They speak Spanish here. And since they are sharing their city and their culture with me, I will learn this language. But I don’t learn just for the purpose of teaching Peruvians what I know. I do it to learn from them. To listen to them. And maybe eventually to teach them. But it is all going to be done in the language that speaks to their heart.

And today this is my privilege.