Matt Kaplan is a recent Music Intern in Spain. This is the fourth in a series of blog posts he’s written for us while there. Be sure to check out Language Tips #1, #2, and #3. See the rest of his posts listed here.
My time in Barcelona has easily been one of the best experiences of my life. That’s not to say that everyday was perfect and nothing bad happened, but rather that I am a different person from when I arrived almost three months ago having gone through everything. I’ve had to adjust to a new work environment, meet a ton of amazing people, and learn how to live independently in a way that has truly tested me. Although I have been living away from home for about 8 years now supporting myself with work and music, trying to juggle all of that while adapting to a new culture was a bigger challenge than I had originally anticipated. Aside from the amazing experiences I’ve had here, connections I’ve made, etc., my biggest accomplishment is being able to say that I am comfortably fluent in Spanish after starting to learnabout a year and a half ago. Sure there are still times I make mistakes and might not understand someone the first time, but it’s safe to say I have enough confidence to speak freely.
One question I get asked often is, “well if you’re Peruvian, how is it that you don’t know any Spanish?” I’ve heard this all my life. When I was just a few months old I was adopted from Peru. I’ve lived in Pennsylvania my whole life and grew up speaking English. I had Spanish classes as a kid and in high school of course, but to me it was always just another class. When I was growing up my parents always told me how important it would be for me to know Spanish but of course, as a young kid who thought he knew it all, I just wasn’t that interested.
It wasn’t until May of 2014 that I decided to devote a huge majority of my time to learning Spanish. A single event was all I needed to push me to get started: I was at a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City seeing a guitar concert, and after the concert I went out to eat with friends who know both of the two artists (both from Italy). We were a table of 12 or so and every single person at the table was speaking Spanish. Except for me. It was at that moment I had said to myself, “never again.” Never again would I hide behind an excuse about why I don’t know Spanish or wait any longer to commit to learning it properly. For me the combination of absolute shame with all of the years of knowing that I needed to do it was enough for me to decide that now is the time.
Back in 2007, I was fortunate enough to meet my birth family for the first time in my life. At the time, we needed a translator to facilitate because I still didn’t know enough Spanish to communicate. Since then we’ve kept in contact through e-mail, Facebook, etc. A few weeks after my Carnegie Hall dinner my sister invited me to visit her in Spain. She had moved from Peru a few years earlier and thought it would be great to catch up. Even though I only had a few weeks of Spanish studies under my belt, I decided that I would go to visit in what would be my first experience of total immersion in Spanish for two weeks in Barcelona.
Taking all of that into consideration and now with this unforgettable experience with PAA, I am able to offer my final language tip (which is the most obvious but perhaps the most complicated as well): As an adult learner, you absolutely have to have a concrete idea of why you are learning a new language. Aside from the many obvious benefits of being bilingual or multilingual, I think it is important to have definite goals in mind that will help you throughout the process. For me, learning Spanish was a way of getting back to my roots with a drive to redefine myself in a way I am proud of. This motivation for me was enough of a reason to adhere to the required disciple in language learning; with anything less it would have been very easy to come up short.
It’s so easy to say, “today I will start to learn a new language” or, “today I will learn a new skill.” But the drive to practice everyday, and keep practicing to better yourself everyday requires continued motivation. I consider myself lucky to be a musician because all the skills I learned over the years through playing the guitar could be directly applied to efficient learning.
I want to take a second here to thank each and everyone of you that has read my blog updates for Performing Arts Abroad. It has been a sincere pleasure sharing my experiences with all of you. I hope that my language learning tips were of some use to you and that you can apply some of it to your own experiences. Here’s a quote I love to close everything out: