The last time I tried to learn a language, it was Spanish, through a blend of classrooms and tutors. My mom would probably describe the overall effect as a dismal failure.
After generally failing to learn how to speak Spanish (though I can passably understand it if people speak slowly), I’d put the idea of becoming multilingual out of my mind, because I believed I’d already proven I was terrible at it and that learning another language just wasn’t in the cards for me. It frustrated me, but whenever the thought of learning a language came up, I thought about how I still didn’t know Spanish, and let the thought wither.
At the same time, my parents instilled in me a deep sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. I’ve long held the belief that people are mostly the same everywhere you go; they want the same things, have fairly similar motivations, and generally just want to be happy. The flavors are different, from food to culture to fun, and with that general feeling that people want similar things I found a fascination with discovering all the different flavors. Most of the books I read growing up came out of England, and the video games from Japan, and each contributed a different view of the world than I was getting from my surroundings.
It wasn’t until recently that I revisited the idea of learning a new language. I put it off for a while, because I still thought I was a failure at learning languages, but I finally bit the bullet and started working on it, largely thanks to the free Rosetta Stone apps for my phone. Phone apps seem light, low-impact. If I try it and it doesn’t work, oh well. I don’t have to make a special appointment to learn a language or take a particular class, I can work on things while I wait for class, or while waiting in a restaurant, or while sitting on the toilet. At the same time, it’s easier than it’s ever been to find the things that remind me why I want to learn new languages.
I struggled with motivation to learn Spanish because it wasn’t really something I was doing for myself. Still, I’ve long felt like I should know Spanish before I move onto some other language, and it was really hard to let go of that sense of obligation. I wasn’t actively learning Spanish, but I also wasn’t actively learning any other languages.
When I started playing Infinity, my interest in Spanish was rekindled. There were a lot of rules that weren’t originally translated very well in English, and I had just enough Spanish knowledge to muddle through the original language in which the game was written. I started brushing up a bit, and while it wasn’t functional or conversational Spanish, it planted the seed for me.
After moving to Seattle, I found myself surrounded by the Chinese and Japanese languages, and it’s made me want to learn them, so that I can communicate with other people and fully experience everything this area has to offer. That thirst to be more worldly has struck again, and there’s so much I can learn through the language. Now, instead of textbooks and classrooms, I can use my phone, my PC, and my TV to teach myself languages. I can play Assassin’s Creed in Spanish and watch shows in Japanese, then put on a film in Chinese. It lends an immediacy and a relevance to what I’m teaching myself, and it makes it much easier than memorizing vocabulary from a book.
Entertainment is a powerful teacher, which isn’t really news to me (or anyone else), but turning it to my own ends as a language-learning tool has been more effective than I could’ve imagined. My next step is to try to talk with my mom in Spanish as much as possible, which is going to be a disaster for a while. Luckily, Spanish and Japanese are very different languages, so I should be able to keep them separate in my head. That being said, I haven’t yet felt like working on two languages at once is confusing or difficult. We’ll see how it goes.