“The pressure of adversity does not affect the mind of the brave man… It is more powerful than external circumstances.”
a Lesson on Learning Languages
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship In A Republic, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France23 April, 1910
Without hesitation, I can freely admit that my español is terrible. Maybe “middling” at best. Weekly Spanish lessons have propagated a sharp increase in my everyday, conversational speech, but the eureka sensation has yet to sprout. On my own, I read poems written by the likes of Federico García Lorca and Alejandra Pizarnik, with the aid of SpanishDict! and Google Translate. Actually, this is how I came to the realization that when compared to English, Spanish is completely backwards! When everyone around you is speaking the language that you’re still in the process of learning, it’s almost impossible to be immune to the pangs of inadequacy, or even stupidity. The common Spanish phrases that are used to inoculate these pangs are “tranquilo” and “poco a poco”. The sentiment is present, though if you’re anything like me, these phrases will frustrate more than alleviate grammatical vexations.
I am ambitious. I fancy to attain fluency in a matter of weeks after first initialization, so maybe I’m more impatient than anything else. However, if I have learned anything about language-learning whilst traveling and living abroad, it would have to be that to learn, one must practice.
Fail at speaking the language!
Practicing What I Preach
The plane alighted in Sofia, Bulgaria around 1AM. De-boarding was relatively easy since I only travel with carry-on luggage, as well as the time was late enough for the tiny airport to not receive too much air traffic. I managed to find a taxi driver almost immediately, or rather, he found me. The drive to the hostel was super quick and light. Neither the taxi driver nor I had much to say to each other. In fact, even when we got to the hostel and I was duly ripped-off on the price — a price that is extremely laughable — I didn’t exchange more than a few words with him. This isn’t because of the time, our individual moods, nor due to a mutual, instantaneous disdain for one another. The onslaught of silence was perpetuated by the lack of possible words that we could’ve said to each other that would be understood. It may come as a surprise, but the Bulgarian dialect and the English language are completely different! The alphabets are different from each other too! How could we possibly have had a conversation when I couldn’t even say “hello” in the native tongue?
Well, when I got inside the hostel, I was determined to right that wrong. For five minutes upon first introductions, I had the hostel receptionist repeat “hello” in Bulgarian until I could accurately pronounce it. This was at 2AM. Bless her soul, she is a trooper for dealing with my curious antics at such an early hour.
Over the following two weeks, I acquired some basic words, greetings, and questions to add to my Bulgarian language repertoire. I committed a TON of errors, but I wouldn’t have progressed without asking questions and speaking the language.
I then translated this working theory into learning basic Turkish, Italian, and Slovenian. While I am not fluent in any of the four languages, I was able to understand the conversational flow for each of them. This was incredibly eye-opening, as well as entertaining, considering the amount of time I spent in each country.
Ambition doesn’t prohibit humility or modesty.
Re-read that last sentence again. It can be tailored for any and all goals and aspirations.
I might have a dismal Spanish vocabulary and grammatical knowledge, but I am comfortable with speaking, writing, and reading in Spanish. I might not have attained fluency yet, but I have accepted my own deficiency.
Fallar, preguntar, probar, y mas importante, estar humilde.
pizarnik__alejandra_-_poesia_completa – Poesia Completa by Alejandra Pizarnik. A huuuugggggeeeee pdf to read at your own leisure.
http://www.hostelmostel.com/ – The best hostel in Sofia, as well as Veliko Tarnovo. A bit biased, but oh well!
http://www.spanishdict.com/ – AHHHHHH, the more precise and accurate alternative to Google Translate. This company has a mobile application that works offline as well! Perfect for wandering through any Spanish-speaking country.
Здрасти (‘zdrasti) ZDRAHS-tee – hello (informal) in Bulgarian.