The High and Low Points of Learning a Foreign Language

It was July of ’06 when my grandmother passed away. She was one of the last of the Huereca family who spoke Spanish as a first language. Times are indeed changing, but it is regrettable that so few of the Huereca clan can speak fluent Spanish. Thus, my goal is to learn Spanish to at least honor my Mexican heritage and where I came from.

In Huntsville, Alabama, there are a lot of Latino restaurants, but not so many places to fully immerse one’s self into the language. I had the privilege of actually visiting a tienda (store) where the lady who was helping me confessed she was still learning English and knew very little. I also confessed I knew very little of Spanish.

In all truth, I am less than a third done with my Rosetta Stone course in Latin America. I have immersed myself in Latino música (Spanish music) and have turned on Spanish subtitles for every single película (movie) I have watched. I even watched a movie called Freedom Writers, which ironically doesn’t have subtitles en Español.

I took Spanish in high school, but I paid little attention. It wasn’t until around October/November of 2006 that I decided that I wanted to try to learn the language. I enrolled in some online courses and started the slow journey.

Around March (2007) I quit. I was unmotivated and I had convinced myself that I couldn’t learn this language. Every time I went to a Mexican restaurant, I was pained because I couldn’t speak to the staff in a language I knew they were familiar with.

When I made the trip to Austin, Texas in June of 2007, a lady approached me in desperation asking if I spoke Spanish. I told her no. I was so disappointed in myself. I vowed to keep it up.

I asked a friend of mine if I could learn Spanish without actually having anyone around me speaking Spanish. She said no. So I thought to myself, “What is the best way to earn Spanish friends?” It is to learn their language, and slowly break into their inner-circle.

And I have been doing just that. I’ve been listening to nothing but Latino music, starting to read Spanish graphic novels, and renting Spanish movies. It is regrettable that the cable networks here do not carry Latino channels, but hopefully that’ll change soon.

Huntsville, unfortunately, is not too friendly to the Latino community. When I went to Austin, practically everywhere there were at least some Spanish speaking people. Here in Huntsville, it’s mostly English.

But it’s important to keep going, and to stay motivated. The trip today to a Mexican restaurant where I could talk to the staff in mostly Spanish was a great motivator. When I told the waitress I wanted some water without lemon (quiero agua sin limón), I enjoyed a small victory.

The waitress then asked me, “¿Te gusto español?”

I didn’t understand her at first because she spoke so fast, but then it clicked, “Yes, I do like Spanish.”

9 thoughts on “The High and Low Points of Learning a Foreign Language”

  1. Thanks Ken,

    I’ve looked at that site before, but I want to see first how my Rosetta Stone goes as I progress into the later stages. But it definitely looks like a useful program, especially the drills.


  3. Hi Ronald,

    I ran into your blog by chance. I am writing from Singapore actually.

    You may tune in to Spanish or Latin American radios too. Try reading simple Spanish articles or interesting stories. They will keep you motivated. I believe the foundation you have in this language years ago will help alot, believe it or not, they are still there in your memory bank.

    All the best in your learning!

  4. Jonathan,

    Thanks a lot. Visiting Mexican restaurants in the area helps a lot too, especially since I’m beginning to learn the staff and owners.

    There’s only a few Spanish radio channels in my area (on AM). Comcast doesn’t have any Spanish channels either. This is surprising, since Huntsville does have a strong Latino community, but not strong enough I suppose for the major cable providers to provide multi-language programming.

    I’ve subscribed to a few Spanish blogs, and even watched Pan’s Labyrinth in nothing but Spanish (and understood quite a bit). Learning is a slow process and I try not to let myself feel intimidated when somebody says something to me in Spanish that I don’t quite understand yet.

    Just like in English, it takes a lot of repetition to learn a new word or phrase.

  5. Sounds like you really are putting in a lot of effort 🙂 I know of a method that is very effective for memorizing new words. Its known as the Leitner Box Method. You may want to read up on that too 🙂 Alternatively, you may want to drop e a mail so that I may send you how it works.

  6. Hey Ronald,

    you never learn it better than in a country where they speak Spanish. It’s not enough to talk Spanish in a restaurant or watch a Spanish movie. You have to live the language, dream in the language, think in the language. That can only happen when you talk and listen to it 24/7.

    Hope you go next year to Seville. I will help you to plan and find an accommodation for that time.


  7. I dont think there are lows in learning any foreign language. But the thing is if once you ve started learning a foreign lang, just complete the course chosen. Thanks for sharing your experience

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