Guest post by Sean Duhaime, one of our trusty Quality Assurance Testers and our go-to Hispanophile here at Transparent Language.
Before I started learning Spanish, there was nothing concrete about me. I was a wayward child with a C average and a vague ambition to become the next singer-songwriter-sensation. I was eleven years old when I began learning that most beautiful of Romance languages, though I didn’t love all of it right away. I loved the learning of vocabulary, especially the weekly verb quizzes. I loathed, as most do, the prescriptive instruction of grammar. I’ve just never really been a rules guy.
The learning of Spanish began to spread like mint in a garden, until it began to suffocate all other puerile pursuits, not the least of which was my ephemeral rock star dream. Throughout high school and into college, I nurtured it. I read Katherine by Seton. I listened to Juanes. I had dueling Spanish professors we affectionately called BLo and Babs. Their styles couldn’t have differed more except in efficacy. Spanish finally found its rightful place in my heart when I read a book halfway through college by the name of For Whom the Bell Tolls. For anyone who hasn’t read it, the story centers on an English expatriate who is fighting against the fascists in the mountains of Spain. I became that Englishman for the space of a few hundred pages, and it was then and there that I first realized I was going to Spain.
It was never a hurried dream. What dreams are when you are twenty-one years old? I just knew that it was something that would eventually happen. I considered studying abroad for a semester, but that seemed too pedestrian for me. I wanted something grander. I wanted the loose and wild conjecture of buying a one way ticket, with absolutely no idea where I would go, knowing only that I would return when my money ran out. I also knew that I would go alone.
College ended and there was that great vacuum that Stephen King calls “the last major convulsion of childhood,” and he is right. I knew nothing of what I wanted to do with my life for a career. I had majored in Literature, because it was my first love, but I had no idea what to do with it. Spanish gave me a purpose. More truly, Spain gave me a purpose. I began to think about it day and night.
On November 1st, 2007, the day finally came. That first journey around Spain can’t be put into words, except to say that it was the most difficult and most perfect thing that I have ever done. I watched other tourists being handled and taken for money because they didn’t have the language skills I had, and I began to finally see the value of all those years of studying Spanish. Learning a language that seems to be slowly consuming the entire western hemisphere, I had elected wisely. I realized that the world was open to me because of Spanish. I spent a week with a Spaniard remodeling his new restaurant, and was given free use of his taxi service afterwards. I spent that first Christmas with two natives that became family to me. Memories that would never have been if I had not spoken the language. Most importantly, I didn’t have to go to a call center like so many of my friends. I could go to any Spanish speaking country and I would be welcome. And I did. After three more trips to Spain, all around Europe, South America, and beyond, I can’t ever thank those early teachers enough for giving me the keys to open the entire world.
In addition to these keys, the learning of languages gave me something else that is even more important. It painted a picture where before there had been nothing. I was no longer a mediocre student with a vague dream, I became that person that was good with language. My studies of other languages improved my knowledge of my native tongue of English, and enabled me to teach English abroad in multiple countries. Lately, it gave me the new gift of inspiration for my first novel, something that I had always wanted to do but had heretofore had no cause.
I know that Spain hasn’t finished with me, but that it is something that will follow me into my future, influencing even the smallest of decisions while I yet live. I will never be the same person as I would have been if I hadn’t pursued foreign languages. Especially today with all of the violence of the world bred from hate, which comes from fear, which comes from not understanding, the idea of learning another people’s language and consequently about their way of life, could not be more important to the preservation of our world and our species.
How have languages changed your life? What surprising paths did you take because of your language abilities?