Not Quite Fluent

Guest Post: Ana Fraser

IMG-20150207-WA0008Ana is an aspiring ninja and polyglot from Jamaica, and when’s she not doing either she’s probably in the middle of a book or doing some form of work. This candy-fueled free-spirit is as enthusiastic about traveling and meeting new people as she is about learning new languages (and playing videogames and eating candy). Low maintenance, high stress and a dash of amazingness.

Heyo!! I’m Anastasia, from the beautiful island of Jamaica. Where to begin…

I’ve always loved languages. They have been a part of who I am since I was nine. I’m aware of my life before that, but there really wasn’t much going on. As a 7 year old, my world revolved around candy, cookies and sleep. It still does, but at the time there was no excitement there. Now, at 17, I haven’t been on any life changing journeys that opened my eyes to the “real” world and I’ve never been in a situation where my abilities in a certain language meant life or death. I’m still very young, and I’ve not really begun to “live life”, but I have had my fair share of challenges, and a few exams did require me to utilize my skills.

Nine. This is was the age I was introduced to Naruto, a religion that made up most of that summer and a few years afterward. I remember Señor Gomez, my first love, and for the public eye, my Spanish teacher. He graced my class from Cuba, and it was through him that I was made aware of the beautiful paradise within Spanish Culture. To impress him, I studied extra hard and even got supplementary Spanish textbooks to accompany my reading (remember- a nine year old!). Sadly, he broke my heart, when he had to return to Cuba. Ay, mi corazón!

Fast forward to high school, where we had to take a mandatory year of Latin and every morning, recite our motto “Salve discipuli” (Hello students) and “Salve magistra” (Hello teacher). Those are two of the very few phrases I remember. I continued Spanish in high school, but I was forced to learn grammar drills and conjugations, which were not hard, but could’ve been much easier…..and MUCH more fun. This was also the year that the heavens decided to grace me with Kpop and Jpop (Korean and Japanese Pop Music). Yamapi stole a piece of my heart even before I found out he was born on the same day as me. I almost learned Japanese right then and there.

In second form (8TH grade), I chose French over Technical Drawing, because French is

1) Beautiful

2) A language and

3) Most importantly, I am still unable to draw a straight line with even the most accurate of devices.

My teacher was a very lovely man (we called him Monsieur Blancment) and I always did well on the class work and homework, but my test grades were near dismal, something I never understood until now. I wasn’t actually learning, I was really just copying all he said and regurgitating it on the paper. He taught a topic and set work on it from the textbooks. I remembered what he was saying and the examples in the textbook were so close to the answer–all you had to do was tweak the answer a bit. I had no reason to learn, the answers were there and I got good grades. The tests on the other hand, required thinking and application, and I had nothing to apply. If only I knew then.

In third form, I continued Spanish and French, but we changed teachers. My new teacher was a learned polyglot that spoke French, Spanish, English and German growing up, and was also versed in Portuguese and Russian. He tried to get us to use the language both inside and out of class, taught us songs that involved chopping off a bird´s head, had us converse with each other on topics we liked, and forbade the use of English in class. He didn’t teach just for the grades, he taught us so we could understand and use the language; a method that I came to treasure, and still do miss.

A new after school program allowed us to take Mandarin as an after school activity with Dr. Wang, a Chinese national. I felt like that class was meant for me, as I live for the Eastern culture. The fooood, stories and places, they’re so enthralling.ANASTASIA

I don’t know who I expected Dr. Wang to be, but it was 10000000% not jeans, converse and graphic tee with colourful glasses. Dr. Wang, “Jason”, as was his preferred English name, and I became so close during that year. I became his translator, guide (for the school) and spokesperson. I don’t even want to say ‘he taught us’ because he did so much more. He shared with us the beauty of Mandarin, showed us where the ‘real’ Chinese food was sold, and told us, well me, tidbits of his life, and it was through these conversations that I began to understand that even with language differences we were all the same. I love to talk, one can even say I “chat too much”, but I never wanted language to act as a barrier between me and anyone, whether friend, lover or foe. So I decided to make a change, to take whatever language I was learning seriously, and not only for tests or homework.

In fourth and fifth form, CSEC preparation took over my life and with all the extra homework and assignments I had to complete, I began to neglect my Spanish. Jason had to go back to China that year and so it was the end of our classes, but not our friendship.

CSEC, or Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate, is a set of exams taken in the fifth year of high school (11th grade). To be honest, most of us did our studying the night before. And we succeeded! (Don’t try this at home.)

At the end of third form students choose eight or nine subjects that they wished to pursue at a more in depth level, the subjects that were necessary for their careers. I did the mandatory three (Maths, English Language and Literature) Biology, Chemistry, Physics, History, Information Technology and Spanish.

I decided to drop French in fourth form, and that is one of my few grave regrets. I WILL definitely pick it back up in college (or run away to France, whichever is easier). I’m not sure if it was the way I was learning ,as the curriculum for both languages is the same, or the fact that my Spanish teacher was also my French teacher, and Spanish and French are annoying siblings, but I began to confuse the two languages and I’d mix them up, vocabulary and conjugation. I didn’t want to negatively affect my grades or my acquisition of the languages, so I kept Spanish; which I had been doing longer.

Also, in fourth form, I had a new Spanish teacher, who frequently told us to “free ourselves from mental slavery”, that we were building “rascacielos” and we needed to have a good foundation. What did she mean? I am not entirely sure, and I do apologize, but when she gave us the 80+ verbs to be conjugated in 10-13 tenses, hah, needless to say, I still have it. This was also the year of italki, and where I met many new friends of different shapes and sizes. Even though I was learning Spanish, I seemed to attract a lot of Arabic speakers (still do), a few who I’ve become very close with and from whom I’ve learnt a phrase here and there. These persons have taught me a whirlwind of values and we’ve formed such bonds, that often times I felt as if I grew up with them and we lived in the same neighbourhood, instead of miles away.

It was exciting to be a part of a community focused on sharing languages the natural way- through human interaction, and there was no pressure to be perfect (like in class when Señora invited persons from Central America to speak to us, and if you messed up you got the “mental slavery” face). This community was so welcoming, and everyone really helped each other, as whenever I posted practice questions, I would get corrections and explanations fairly quickly. I had an acquaintance from El Salvador who knew Jamaican music that I didn’t even know existed. I could play any song from ‘The Skatalities’, and he would not only name it but launch into his rendition of it. It became a game where I tried to find some of their songs that he didn’t know. As expected, I failed atthis, and I should mention that this was a day before my Spanish exams. Our Skype calls went into the mornings (on exam night, no less), and I quickly forgot that I was supposed to be practicing for my orals, instead laughing at some foolish prank that a friend pulled on him.

Me

I feel that sixth form (my twelfth year which ended this summer) was my defining moment. I was filled with the Spirit of Spanish that made me take Advanced Spanish as one of my subjects. I was one of 11 (there were 15, but the others left after the first week when the teachers- yes we needed two forliterature and language- explained how demanding the course would be). Oh, and demanding it was. Sleepless nights, days and hallucinations of chicano neighbourhoods plagued this year. I had to balance this with my other classes (Sciences, heh) and my duties as a prefect and Student Council secretary. It was a challenging year, and although there were maaany downs, my only regret was not ordering the quesadilla instead of the quesoritto on our Spanish night (vida noche). Okay, not my only but a very big regret.

This post seems to be filled with mostly my life instead of my language journey, but that’s exactly it. I want to incorporate languages into my daily way of life. I want to breathe, in Spanish (not possible), sing in the shower in French (the singing part is not possible) and one day I really want to tell my dad what the GPS is saying when it breaks out into a string of Japanese. Studying all these languages has shown me that it’s really all about the simple moments and the experiences made with loved ones, whether the love is familial, romantic or obsessive; (I love you Dae-Hyun!! (o_O) )

Especially through Spanish and Korean, I’m aware that what really matters is what you do with what you can. Do I claim to be fluent in any of them? Nope! If someone came and asked for a translator in any of the above languages, could I certify that I’m the best? Heavens no! I would try though, and I would most definitely learn from my mistakes and try toimprove.

It brings me joy to read something boring (cereal box) and realize that I was reading in Spanish and understanding, or to listen to my favourite Korean song and actually understand what Mad Clown is rapping. I can’t give tips, because what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Believe me, I’ve scoured the internet for everything, and I’ve done them all. I believe that the little things matter, and above all, that you should keep at it. I’ve struggled with motivation and perseverance, but in the end, just keep at it. Five minutes a day, an hour; use whatever you can, whenever you can and do it often. It helps.

For me, I believe that there is NO WAY to be fluent in 24 hours or 6 months. Yes, you will have a basic understanding after a day, and after 6 months you could possibly mingle with the natives, and be comfortable expressing yourself on various topics. There are many simple things you can do to get started. Change your phone language (it hurts the first few weeks, but bear it). Whatever your favourite topic to watch on YouTube is, find a YouTuber who does it in your target language. You have not lived until you’ve seen a YouTube gamer with an entirely different background (case in point: Fernanfloo) and watch him rage mode after being unable to beat a level Happy Wheel. To this day I find his “Como Detener El Tren” for Grand Theft Auto Five, too hilarious for words.

HIMG-20160630-WA0031ow you learn a language is 100% up to you. Why? When? How? All in your hands. Find songs that you like, and incorporate them in your music library. Keep a journal, and post it to italki, or share it with your language partner. The possibilities are endless, just never stop learning. You won’t always feel confident, I recently just did ​Unit 1 of my Spanish exams, and although I’m not 100% confident in how I did (I do know I could’ve done better), I know it isn’t necessarily the end of my life (probably my college life, just kidding! I hope not :/), I know where I want to be and I know that my future is dependent on the actions I take now.

Nothing is impossible, even the word itself says “I’m possible.” 🙂

Sydney Sauer • July 1, 2016


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