Learning a language is hard

As mentioned earlier in this blog, I am in Cuernavaca with a group of students. On the first day, our group was divided into beginning and advanced Spanish speakers for our language class.

Yours truly is in the bottom right hand side of our class picture below (the only male in the class).

I have been in the beginning group since I have not been in a Spanish class for over 20 years. When we first arrived, I was comfortable with the basic words that many of us know – gracias, buenas dias, and most of my numbers. Our class met from 9-12 each week day and it soon became evident to me that I would need a lot more than this to become somewhat conversant. Now, to me somewhat conversant would be carrying on a conversation over dinner or being able to talk to someone about purchasing an item. In the class were students whose parents have spoken Spanish and English most of their lives but had not learned to speak Spanish, then there were students who had taken Spanish courses more recently than I. During the two weeks of our class, I became better at the basic conversational Spanish, but I realized how much more studying and learning I would need in order to become “conversant.” So, internally, I became frustrated at this knowledge and despite completing my homework each evening, I was disappointed in myself that I could not pick up this language more quickly. After all, in many of the classrooms where I have taught, most of the students’ primary language was Spanish and I heard it every day! I felt less intelligent than others who could speak the language more fluently.

Then, my frustration turned to reflection. I more fully understand the frustration of students who do not know the English language but are in our United States educational system. Like most students, they do not intentionally NOT want to learn the English language, it just takes time. And, based on their prior knowledge, some students will pick up the English language faster than others. As we know from brain-based learning, some are more receptive to language learning than others and some just need more time. My greatest realization was that just because I was not able to become more fluent in speaking Spanish did not mean I was not able to learn other things or should be treated as less intelligent than fluent Spanish speakers. So, my hat is off to all of those teachers who teach English to non-English speaking students in our schools. It truly is a miracle how a student can learn a new language and learn to read and learn math and make new friends and function in a new country all at once.

4 Responses to “Learning a language is hard”

  1. 1 teacherninja July 17, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    No miracle, just hard work from the kids, ELL teachers and lots of books, conversations and time. Thanks for a great post.

  2. 2 juanxipe July 25, 2008 at 7:37 am

    I think that Darrow’s comment is well worth exploring. ESL teachers deserve alot of credit for their work, but this is not only about hard work per say. Rob hits the nail on the head because it is a complex phenomenon including the psyche, self-esteem, social standing, cultural transition, transmission, and shifting gears. It involves having to balance one’s heritage and new found society and culture. How to do withiout rejecting one’s persona is the magic, the challenge, where it could lead to personal ruination and a decision to never learn.


  3. 3 juanxipe July 25, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Rob: how do it correct misspellings after posting? Hope everything is going well. See you soon. Hope to have reunion Aug 14, thursday, around 5:30pm.

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