As I mentioned before, I have been grappling with whether I should study French or Spanish. I really, really, really want to be fluent in a second language and with a background in both French and Spanish it makes sense to choose one of them (as opposed to heavily spoken Mandarin which I would choose if I thought I’d have any chance of learning it in less than ten years.. or maybe Italian if I thought we’d move there for Coco to attend school in Reggio Emelia..or heck, why not Amharic!?). But I had to narrow it down so I am down to two. And here’s the deal: although I have studied both French and Spanish, I am nowhere near fluent in either. I studied Spanish in high school for three years and I was just ok. In college I switched to French and forgot most of my Spanish. And the French from college was only one semester– and it was P/F second semester senior year so you can imagine how little I learned. After college I lived in France for six months and got quite good. At least good enough to write my mom letters in French. I studied it the way you should–total immersion–and by an instructor who didn’t speak English. It was great, but it was only a semester. I wish I had stayed a year or two because by then I am sure I would have been fluent. I did stay another couple of months waitressing in a restaurant– but it was an American barbecue restaurant where it was accepted, and kinda cute even, that I didn’t speak great French. To put it in perspective, I applied to work at several other restaurants prior but didn’t get hired because my French clearly wasn’t good enough.
Well, now fast forward twenty years and, well, as you can imagine I am worse at both. I do think though that my Spanish accent is far more natural and closer to a native speaker. I suspect it’s because I studied it when I was younger. I read recently that it is better to learn a language earlier for the accent, but not really for much else. Most research I had read pointed to young children being able to learn languages better due to the stage of their brain development but according to what I have been reading recently, the better you speak your mother tongue, the easier it is to learn a foreign language. In other words, adults have an advantage to learning a language over children. I would put money on the reason so many children seem to pick up languages so quickly is because they learn it differently than adults. They aren’t given textbooks and made to memorize lists of vocabulary and verb tenses. No, they are put into situations where they are immersed and therefore motivated to learn. And in these situations they are given permission to make mistakes, they are corrected gently, there are tons of gestures and realia and modeling. It is a safe environment in which to learn a language. Put me in a Kindergarten class in Senegal or Mexico and I bet I would be fluent in a year! Since I don’t plan on living in Manila long-term spending time learning Tagalog isn’t a good use of my time. (And you may think Spanish is spoken here due to Spanish colonization, but it is not). So, okay, it’s been decided: French or Spanish. Great. Now I just need to choose! Here are the pros of each:
- I love the sound of the French language. It sounds so romantic!
- I know more French
- I could see living in Senegal or Morocco
The cons are it’s hard to learn and my French has a very American accent.
- I could also see living in Spain, Venezuela, Costa Rica or Puerto Rico
- It would be useful in the US or Brazil, both places I could move
- It’s easy to learn
- My accent sounds more natural
The cons are.. Hmmm… I don’t think there are any cons!
No cons?! Well, then, I guess that means Spanish becomes the obvious choice. The clincher? It’s easier. If it’s easier I will learn it faster which in turn will make me feel accomplished and motivate me to learn French.. or Italian or Amharic or Mandarin! I was going to ask your opinion but after writing it out, it pretty clear to me what I should choose. But, heck, I’ll ask your opinion anyways. What say you?
** Before I hit post, I found a blog by Benny Lewis called Fluent in Three Months. Wow, he makes it seem like becoming fluent this year (or in three months) is a totally doable goal! Check out this post about how he insists I can achieve my New Year’s Revolution of learning a second language. I am so excited!