Tonight, I was gazing at the bookshelf in our hallway. One of my roommates is obsessed with antiques, and much of the furniture in our house came from one of our elderly neighbors. It’s clear that many of the books came from her as well, their dilapidated spines and shabby covers revealing their age, and my eyes fixed on a small burgundy spine that said GREGG SHORTHAND. Intrigued, I thumbed through the first sections. I had never really been clear on exactly what shorthand was before, but now I finally understand it. What’s more, in the book I’m reading right now, it’s mentioned a certain character writing in taquigrafía a few times. What with the context and the description, I guessed that it was probably shorthand, although I never looked it up. Is the universe conspiring for me to learn this obsolete written language system? No, but look at what I read in the book’s introduction. Read this and mentally substitute Spanish for shorthand and speaking for writing and make all the other necessary tweaks. This was written in 1916–almost a century ago!–but I so agree.
Yes, cultivate a love for Spanish, a deep, abiding love. Think of it as the highest form of speaking. Take pride in being able to speak it in ever-so-graceful lines and curves. Avoid pauses, avoid choppiness, avoid staccato. Try to speak as artfully as you can. Skill in the use of Spanish is coveted by the wisest of men and women. Just think about all the mental culture you’re building up and drool.
Don’t shirk practice! Don’t try to get around the painstaking work of building your vocabulary, word by precise word. There are no shortcuts. Each word is a gem carefully inlaid in your mind, and each one will be of inestimable value to you one day. Each one will be le mot juste for you in some situation you can’t foresee right now, that is, if you plan to indwell the language, not just be a scholar of Spanish, studying it under a magnifying glass. Last week, I learned the verb escindirse from a newspaper article I read at work. It was talking about a Mexican drug gang that had splintered off from a larger gang. In the dictionary, it said “to split into something”; “to break away from something.” My Ecuadorian coworker (who has a vocabulary of the gods) didn’t know it. I jotted it down anyway. Tonight I was chatting with my friend in Medellín on Facebook- a more informal conversation no se podría tener. And, what did she write to me? No sé por qué te escindiste. That always happens to me.
Devote much time to listening to well-spoken Spanish. Who speaks it best? Native speakers, claro. Steal from them, plagiarize every one of their expressions, copycat them shamelessly. Eventually it will become unconscious for you, innate. Learn to become a fluent listener. You don’t have to move abroad to immerse yourself in Spanish. It usually doesn’t even work, anyway.
I think my favorite line was this one: You can, if you will, make the study of [Spanish] a perfect joy instead of a task. That’s exactly how it is for me. A perfect joy. I have Spanish love practically oozing out of my pores, just ask anyone who knows me. I’ve had that love for a long time, and so my interest naturally remains high. I’d do anything to speak it perfectly. It will happen sooner rather than later. It’s just a matter of time for me. I will if I desire to.
It does seem odd, though, to command someone to cultivate a love for something. I guess you probably either have it or you don’t. Tell me to cultivate a love for economics or even Portuguese (I wish I did, but I don’t, at least not currently) and I’ll just change the topic and politely tune you out. If you don’t have a love for it, maybe you should simply free yourself from the burden of trying to learn something that’s nothing but drudgery for you. It’s OK. You can always come back to it later and pick it up. Life is long! What’s the rush? Once you get the burning desire in you to learn it and the irresistible need and self-created urgency, you’ll learn it quickly without a problem. Why go at a snail’s pace and grow discouraged over your minimal progress in something that doesn’t really inflame you with passion in the first place?
And if you do love it, then I know you’re not having any problem learning and improving and perfecting your Spanish. Our motivation and seriousness is always clearly indicated in our actions and progress. We are what we do. Sometimes I just dabble in Spanish and then I wonder why my results are those of a person merely playing at learning a language, as if I were content to be a lifelong dilettante, a word here, a word there. Am I? Are you? No! I’m not enamored of learning in and of itself– I’d rather learn this and be done with it, move on to other things. I just want to use Spanish for my own nefarious purposes, bwahaha. I want to be a Spanish speaker– not a Spanish learner, not a Spanish knower. I want it to be effortless. But, as we all know, you have to put in so. much. damn. effort. before you can “achieve” effortlessness.
Well, this is me publicly sharing that I am going to kick up my Spanish learning by several notches starting right now. I will be much more intentional, much more intense, and significantly more disciplined. No more frittering away eons of time. I will speak, listen, read, and write for several hours a day, every day (I already do this, but lazily). I will do everything possible to banish English from my life and suffuse every waking moment with Spanish (within reason). I will not let myself feel good about my Spanish merely by comparing it to the very mediocre Spanish/English that most of the bilingual people around me have. I will spend time around truly bilingual people to fill myself with envy and healthy righteous indignation–who are they to speak Spanish/English so well and make me look bad? I’m every bit as intelligent and capable as they are. I refuse to let idiotic laziness keep me permanently mediocre. I refuse to settle for good enough, which is utterly useless. I am cracking a whip at my own back. I’m lighting a fire under my ass. Estoy poniéndome las pilas. I want to move on.