In college, I worked as an RA (Resident Assistant). In this role I did “rounds” throughout my residence hall on a rotating schedule with the other two RAs in my hall. I checked-in on people and tried to keep the pulse of the hall as a whole and individual suites (our college was set up where 5-6 dorm rooms were situated in a “suite” with a joint living room, kitchen, and bathroom). Really the job felt more like a privilege than a duty. I love to get to know lots of different kinds of people, however I tend to be timid, so that job gave me an excuse to barge in on people’s lives and hang out.
Part of the training to become an RA was taking the Myers-Briggs personality test. Each of us in the program had to take it, and then we learned about each other’s personalities and how we would work best together–putting our strengths and weaknesses together. It turned out my personality is ENFJ. That is Myers-Briggs jargon for an extroverted feeling and sensing person, with introverted intuition and thinking. Or in other words “The Giver.” Basically I love to be around people, but often times feel alone because I enjoy getting to know them more than I allow myself to be known. I will be the first to get excited with you about anything special or important in your life, and I will share all my current ideas and plans and dreams. But when you get to the part about my feelings and thoughts, I close up.
|The awesome and very professional group of women I got to work with as hall staff.|
You may be wondering why I am sharing all of this right now, and what it has to do with learning Spanish! Well, with everything in life, with whatever things we pursue–jobs, careers, educational goals, dreams, relationships–it helps to know ourselves first and work within that framework to get where we are going. In my journey of learning and now teaching Spanish, I have learned a few things about myself, and those things have helped me to learn and teach better. And believe me–it is all still a work in progress.
During my study abroad years I had no trouble finding friends–all outgoing, adventurous, intelligent individuals that took life into their own hands a made things happen. You know the type I am talking about. And I was perfectly happy to go along with their plans and enjoy the ride. Having such great friends then placed me in situations to learn Spanish that would not have happened to me if I were in charge. I am so thankful for all those people I met, and how much I gained personally and
educationally knowing them.
After college I landed a job working as an interpreter at a local preschool. I took all the incoming Spanish phone calls, interpreted for children in the nurse’s office, gave tours of the preschool to the Spanish-speaking families, conducted all the Spanish DIAL-3 screenings for incoming students, and interpreted for the teachers during their home visits and Parent-Teacher Conferences. Although financially this job did not offer much, I gained so much personally and professionally from it. Again I was put in situations where I had to speak Spanish, not having to initiate conversation, only respond.
Now that I stay home with my children, I am realizing how much I let Spanish just happen to me. As the one in charge of helping my kids to learn it, I am realizing I now have to be the one to initiate Spanish-speaking and Spanish-learning opportunities. Here is what I have learned so far:
1. Find Online Support
Blogging about it all has been one way to “make” myself be proactive. If I feel responsible to others–my readers (even if they are imaginary)–I will push myself to learn new things, try new things, seek out information and resources to share. Blogging has also been a great way to meet people around the nation and world doing the same thing I am, and they have been a huge support and encouragement to me–especially as we embark on this journey of becoming a bilingual family. Wherever you are in your language-learning journey, find a group of like-minded people to encourage you and support you–and finding that online is a safer place for us introverts.
2. Find a Partner
The older my children get, the more serious I become about making our family bilingual. I cannot express how much joy I find in this passion and goal of mine. I wish every family could take the opportunity to learn a foreign language together–it is so rewarding, eye-opening, and adventure-filled! Of course I married an Extrovert (big surprise, huh?) and this helps. For example, my husband is trying to learn Spanish so that he can speak with his Spanish-speaking clients in their first language. If he sees someone in public that he can tell speaks Spanish, he immediately starts talking to them in his broken Spanish to practice, proceeding to tell them that I am fluent and forcing me to tell them all about it. He has no qualms about breaking the ice. To him, there is no ice, and I suppose this has been good for me–a constant challenge to break out of my shyness and engage people in Spanish. You would think that loving to speak Spanish would be motivation enough, but I tell you that fear of exposing myself is so real. I really love the ambition my husband has, and I am so happy he shares my goal of teaching our kids Spanish. He does the same thing with my children. If we meet a kiddo in public that speaks Spanish, my hubby encourages Jefe to say, “¡Hola! Me llamo… ¿Cómo te llamas? ¿Cómo estás?” (Hello! My name is… What’s your name? How are you?) For introverts the one-on-one relationships are easier, so find that one person that shares your same goals and it will take you a long way!
3. Find Someone to Teach
One thing I love about having children, is that they are so eager and excited about life, it allows you to stay in that state as well. My children both inherited my husband’s social genes, but they are also kids–which means they are not afraid of trying new things or messing up. If Jefe meets a stranger who speaks Spanish he runs up to them all excited and says, “I know Spanish! Uno, dos, tres, cinco, tres….” (1, 2, 3, 5, 3…) I learn so much from observing this zeal for life, learning new things, and sharing with others. My children make friends so much easier than I do, and I am learning from them. There is no need to be afraid of messing up or looking silly.
4. Find the Courage to Take Chances–It’s Worth It!
Recently I have had many opportunities to be like my hubby and kiddos. At one of the parks we frequent, we have met a Spanish speaking family. On my own accord I started speaking Spanish to the mom, and I’m so glad I did! I learned that she does not speak much English and was happy to have someone to converse with in Spanish. I was just as happy to practice my Spanish, and thus a friendship has begun. The more I venture to speak Spanish, the more confident and relaxed I become about it. In turn, I am able to provide my kids with more opportunities to hear and use it as well.
5. Find Inspiration–In Books, In People, In Yourself
I feel like my learning curve is huge as of late. Between my new-found blogging network, primarily through Multicultural Kid Blogs, my recent reads, 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child and Bilingual Is Better, all the Spanish-speaking opportunities popping up, and how receptive my children have been to learning and trying Spanish, I am realizing I CAN DO THIS! The other night my husband and I ran into a friend of his from elementary school. She married a man from Mexico and both of their children speak Spanish. As I saw her walk around the restaurant speaking with her kids in Spanish I thought, “Nothing says I can’t do that too!” Her natural ability to do that in a culture where Spanish is not the norm inspired me. I cannot tell you how exciting it is to set a goal, and realize it just might happen. Not only am I giving my children the gift of bilingualism (that comes with countless benefits), I also get the huge gift of seeing something I am working at beginning to come to fruition. These years ahead will continue to blow me away I’m sure. And I especially look forward to the friendships we find along the way.