the lighbulb moment: speaking foreign languages

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Lighbulb Moment: Speaking Foreign Languages

I wrote numerous posts about my year abroad in Salamanca, in Spain, and what a year it was for me! I changed in so many ways, and of course I improved my Spanish both grammatically and conversationally. Fellow linguists will understand and know that moment, the lighbulb moment, when it happens. Something clicks in your head, and you just get it. You see the fruits of all of the (tear-inducing) work that goes into learning languages, all of the time-consuming grammar exercises, translations and reading. And what a fantastic feeling it is!

The amount of people that would ask me "so are you fluent yet?" after merely a few months in Spain stunned me. The difference with studying languages to other disciplines is that you never reach a precise point where you are truly fluent. You can't simply cram in a few nights of hurried revision and turn up to the exam et voilà, you have mastered languages! For this reason, a lot of people say they "couldn't do languages", because the process requires little bits of continual practice rather than standard note-taking and revising.

The Lighbulb Moment: Speaking Foreign Languages
I began studying French and Spanish at 12 years old at school. The entire process has been one often called "drip-feeding" - your knowledge and more importantly, your understanding of language usage and grammar, cultural nuances, conversational phrases in another language is a very gradual process. I can say I've been learning languages for roughly 10 years, which sounds impressive at first. However, I couldn't say I was able to have any kind of actual conversation until sixth form, a whole 6 years later. 

Even despite two years at university, with weekly conversation practice in class, I still felt totally stumped arriving in Spain last year. Safe to say I ate up my slice of humble pie at breakneck speed. After months of building up my confidence with other Erasmus students, I finally began to make friends with other Spaniards. From there, my speaking ability absolutely soared.

And so, my lightbulb moment hit me one day. Bam. I was chatting to people without needing to translate in my head, I could just say what I wanted to say (harder than it sounds).

I still feel completely at ease chatting away in Spanish now, despite coming back from Spain last year. However, it requires regular practice, and I've been fortunate to make one or two Spanish friends back in Southampton, who have helped me to keep up my speed and fluency. French on the other hand, has taken quite a beating as a result.

Inevitably, after a year adjusting to the culture and environment of Spain, this was going to impact on my French speaking abilities. However! Last night I finally had a little lighbulb moment. I met a lovely French girl at badminton, and I feel so much better about my speaking abilities. After months of trying to get my speed and confidence back, I could say what I wanted without having to think as much as I used to, I could have a giggle with her, and my head didn't hurt as much as it did at the beginning of this year.

It helped to remind me that all of the work I've done this year to get my ability back has been worth it. Crucially, I don't need to worry as much about exams and my level of fluency when they hit in May. That lightbulb moment is elating and reassuring for language learners, and makes the whole process completely worth it.

Do you learn any languages? Have you had the lightbulb moment yet?

Thanks for reading!


1 comment

  1. Definitely had the lightbulb moment with German! I love the language and process of learning it but having not taken it at A Level it takes a little more work and time xo


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