Language Learning and Bike Riding

Connor R. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. He comes to SYA from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire.

Learning a foreign language, especially in a place where only the target language is spoken, is a very similar learning process to that of learning to ride a bike. You fall, quite frankly, on your face many times before you finally get pedaling. Of course, you might fall a couple more times before you can effortlessly ride the bike, but hopefully these falls aren’t quite as hard as the first few. In my first three months here, I sure have taken a few falls. Sometimes, you find yourself completely lost for the right word, or wholly unaware of what everyone around you is saying. This, believe it or not, is a very good thing. In fact, the best way to become comfortable with speaking a foreign language is to speak as much of it in any setting as possible, no matter your ability.

For example, after participating in an exchange program in which I attended a Spanish high school for the day a little over a month ago, I felt that I had flipped a switch and was much more comfortable with my speaking abilities. Wanting to make the most of my experience, I made sure that I spoke confidently and often, despite being worried about my less than perfect grammar. Proving to be one of my favorite memories so far from SYA, the exchange not only helped me overcome doubts I held regarding my ability to speak Spanish, but also to form friendships with Spanish kids, with whom I only speak Spanish to. With my newfound confidence, I’ve been able to engage in much more profound, abstract conversations with my host family, speak with my neighbors as I leave the house every morning, and even overcome one of my greatest fears: speaking Spanish on the telephone, which is surprisingly difficult. Of course, there are days where it seems more difficult than usual, and times when I have to say “repite, por favor” several times to understand exactly what the subject of conversation is. However, it is these days that mark progress; because after all, you’ve got to fall off the bike a few times before you’re finally pedaling effortlessly.

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