>  Spanish Learning   >  Bumps in the Road

I‘ve officially been in Mexico for two weeks now. Living between Mexico City and the trunk of my car in Boston. The city is enormous. I’ve only seen a very little bit of it, but what I’ve seen I like very much. There is green space, good food for days, and I have felt completely safe thus far.

But as with all changes, this one has not gone off without a hitch. Whatever my insta account may look like, it’s not all fun and games and gallivanting about. Things have been…interesting. For one thing, New guy and I’s first vacation together didn’t go as smoothly as either of us expected. I won’t get into details but I will say that in the end, we ended up having a great time together and did a lot of really, REALLY fun things. Still, there were some hiccups.

The day he left, Sunday, my lack of sleep, acclimation to a new time zone, climate and altitude, and my poor nutrition (cerveza is as good a food as any, right?) finally caught up with me and I found myself sniffling through my first day of school on Monday. Tuesday was worse and not just because my cold waged all out war on my body, but also because I hit my first bump in the road on my newly-begun path to language learning.

After signing up for classes and taking a placement test online, I showed up for my first day of school, ready to pick up where I left off and get back to business. I was dissapointed (albeit not surprised) to see the results of my placement test. I had aced the basics, but in the intermediate level material I was far from proficient. Some of the questions I got wrong were things that I had learned and presumably knew before.

In the seven months I’d taken off from any serious form of practice or study I’d done a backslide. And here it was in black and white. I was placed into Basico B. For the tiniest moment it felt like a blow to my ego, and with one breath in and out that feeling was gone and I felt grateful to be back to learning, to be able to take this time to dedicate to my study, and even for this class placement. If I didn’t know my stuff, why not review for a week and really get it solidified?

I took seven months off from language learning and in those seven months I’d forgotten what it’s like.

I settled in to my class, relaxed a bit, eager to get to know my teacher and the students. (And to be honest, pretty pumped about having a leg up, having already learned this material once.) As we started going over the preterit, or simple, past tense, conjugating irregular verbs, the full list of which I already have written out in the notebook from my previous Spanish school, it became apparent that it would be a full week of review and not much more. Still I stayed positive. I had placed here, after all. I answered questions when asked and participated in my group exercise. Before the mid-day break, while students were shuffling papers about, the teacher looked over at me and asked “Is this very easy for you?”

I answered honestly that it was, and she asked if i wanted to move up to the next level. And while part of me was like Yah, I’ve been here, done this, the other part was saying just the opposite.

Move up? What if you’re not ready? You didn’t test well enough. What if you can’t catch up? What if you’re the slow kid in class?

Not wanting to shoot myself in the foot by asking to be moved up and then struggling the entire time, I did what most people I would do: deflected.

“Do you think I should move up?” I asked.


Seriously, I’m a work in progress. And it’s slow going.

She showed me the course material that the intermediate class would be learning this week and most of it was material I had learned in my last week at my previous school. So that, in a way, would be review too. But maybe, I mused, the good kind, since this intermediate level stuff was where I’d faltered in my placement exam. Seeing the syllabus laid out, it seemed silly to agree to stay in this class “for review” and then move up to the next level which would also be, for all intents and purposes, review.

The truth is I knew in my gut the moment she asked that I should move up. It’s obvious. When opportunities to push yourself and to stretch your boundaries and to grow present themselves you should always say yes. Even if there are growing pains. And spoiler alert: There always are.

Balancing homework, Spanish learning, Blogging, and my caffeine addiction

My adorable little roof terrace is the perfect place to study or relax over a leisurely breakfast.

Tuesday I showed up to class feeling like basura; leaky nose, head in a bubble, achey and exhausted, and also what I felt was intimidated. I felt that since I hadn’t placed into this class level that I’d have to prove myself more to the teacher and other students.

(Seriously, everyone else is focused on themselves and I know this is literal lunacy, but in the name of being honest I’m laying my cray out for you.)

The first half of the class was a bit quick and a bit difficult, and the second half was much worse. The exercises we did in class were hard. I couldn’t make sense of it and it felt so advanced. I worried I was in over my head. Of course my insides chimed in with: “Told ya so. Should have stayed in the other class.” These negative thoughts raced through my head as I tried to focus on the activity at hand, which felt near impossible to me. I had really fucked up

Then i heard something else that caused the negative thoughts to pause for just a few moments. My teacher spoke.

“I can help you, Josh.”

I looked over at my classmate Josh, who had apparently been using his cell phone to translate a word.

“I’ll need a lot of help,” he replied.

My heart soared.

The relief that washed over me is almost embarassing. It’s not that I was happy that Josh was struggling. I was just glad that my struggle wasn’t because I am a dumbass. It turned out, as I looked around, that almost everyone in my small class was struggling with this assignment. None of us were dumbasses. It was just difficult. Leaving class, I was glad to know that i wasn’t trailing far behind my classmates. Feeling better, but far from relaxed, I determined that if I wanted to keep up, to get to a place of being comfortable with the material in class and with using the language outside of class, I’d have to buckle down and study hard and put in some serious time.

Going over the situation in my head later that night, I was reminded of a blog post I wrote while in Colombia called “Just Keep Swimming.” I wrote it after experiencing a similar situation of feeling overwhelmed and dumb and in way over my head the first time I tried learning Spanish. I had felt like there was so much information to receive that I couldn’t possibly process and learn and retain all of it. Thinking of this old blog post from last March brought about a sense of calm and put me at ease.

I took seven months off from language learning and in those seven months I’d forgotten what it’s like. It’s difficult. It’s a lot. It’s humbling. Usually you feel like you’re just treading water, but sometimes it feels like you’re lost at sea. But for as many days as you feel like the dumbest dumbass on the planet, there are just as many that follow where a concept clicks and somehow you just *get it*. Those moments are exhilarating and precious and convince you it’s worth it to keep trying.  It’s a roller coaster. And understanding and accepting that fact makes those discouraging days a lot easier to swallow.

I’m happy to report that Wednesday’s class went much more smoothly. We worked on the same topic for a short time, and for some reason a lightbulb went off and I just got it. It clicked. Just like everything else I had struggled with before along my Spanish learning journey.

I left class feeling confident in my understanding of the material and confident that I had made the right choice in moving up a level. The road is long, and I’ve lots to learn. But I’m right where I belong. And if I just keep swimming, that’s right where I’ll end up.



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