I’ve been in this situation before. Hopelessly monolingual in a foreign country, wishing for meaningful dialogues instead of simple pleasantries and broken conversations about the weather. In both Nicaragua and Spain, I told myself I’d go back home and learn Spanish so that next time it wouldn’t be like this, but it’s never happened. I know people who are fluent in 5 languages, how can I still only speak one?
Starting today that changes. I’m going to rid myself of that stereotype that plagues Americans the world over – that we’re too lazy to learn another language besides English.
Actually, I’m going to learn two languages, and do it by my 25th birthday.
Hopefully by making myself publicly accountable for a big goal like this, I’ll be more likely to achieve it. In case that doesn’t work, I have some other tricks too, but first the goal.
By my 25th birthday, November 25th, 2015, I will be fluent Spanish and French.
Cool, so what do I mean by “fluent?”
Speaking the language perfectly? Being indistinguishable from a native speaker? Being able to have debates about philosophy or other esoteric subjects?
I’m defining it as being able to have a 30 minute conversation with a native speaker and understand at least 95% of what’s said, easily clarifying if I don’t, and being able to express myself completely without having to awkwardly phrase sentences or slow down the pace of the conversation. Understand, I don’t plan to be mistaken for a native speaker at this point, just have a very good understanding of the language. While this might not fit everyone’s definition of fluency, it will be sufficient for my use. For more info, I’m basing my definition on one from some guy on the internet.
Why by my 25th birthday? No real reason, it just seemed like a good deadline. I tend to work better under pressure of a deadline as well and this way I’ll be able to track my progress better.
I don’t yet know exactly the process that I’ll take to get to fluency, but I’m creating an incentive to make sure that I figure out a way to do so. As of now, I’m publicly committing that if I’m not fluent in Spanish and French on my birthday two and a half years from now:
I will personally donate $1000 of my own money to Tea Party politicians.
See, not only do I really not want to lose $1000, I really really don’t want to give it to the Tea Party. I won’t get into politics here, but suffice it to say that they’re pretty far away on the idealogical spectrum from where I stand. By creating this sort of incentive, hopefully I’ll be less likely to make excuses when it comes to practicing the languages, pushing past plateaus, or talking with native speakers. I’ll be the first to admit that my willpower isn’t strong enough to do something like this on my own, so this is my way of forcing my future self to suck it up and make it happen.
Sorry future Brian, it’s for your own good. Do it for gender equality! Do it for the environment!