Guest Post: Kail Passes His Spanish Test


Kail_Spanish.jpgKail_Spanish.jpg

Kail passed his Spanish test this week! He now speaks Spanish with professional working proficiency.I’ve written about my experiences trying to learn Spanish — with Rosetta Stone and now at the Foreign Service Institute — but I thought it might be better for you to hear from someone who has actually been successful at learning a new language! So I asked Kail to write a guest post.learning spanish, foreign service, fsi, rosetta stone, expat lifeAs a causal (read: daily) reader of this blog, one of the main themes (besides food) seems to be change. We both knew going in that 2012 would be year of change for us. We’ve gotten married, moved in together, and soon will be moving abroad together. One of the other major changes has been the need to learn a second language. As part of my job, I needed to obtain a 3/3 on the ILR scale, which I did earlier this week. In order to do this, I studied at FSI for little over six months.Six months is a significant amount of time to be in training and away from your job. I remember looking out the windows on one of my first days in class and seeing snow falling. I then realized that I would be looking out this same window when the flowers and trees bloomed and even when they began to wilt in the summer heat. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days at FSI.The FSI Life Cycle goes something like this:

Phase I: Excitement over the possibility of learning a new language and getting away from a traditional work environment.

Phase II: The slog and monotony that comes with studying  a new language and the realization that it will be more like a marathon and not a sprint.

Phase III: Finally, a desire to leave and once again get back to your normal profession.

(Note from Natasha: I am still in Phase I!)

There are a couple reasons for this change of emotions. First, when I started, my exam date was many months away and provided little stress. Second, when you start learning a new language the learning curve is high. (On the first day, I learned how to say “Hello my name is …” and the alphabet.) Your overall growth rate in ability is high enough to dominate any day-to-day fluctuations in your ability. Since I am an economist, I thought of it in economic terms: The overall growth rate dominates any business-cycle fluctuations in the first few months.The problem is that this growth rate slows down over the six months. The last few months, it’s much more difficult to appreciate learning gains as day-to-day fluctuations seem to dominate them. This generally explains why most students are excited upon entering FSI and equally excited upon exiting. Finally, as the time to test approaches, so too does the time to depart to post — along with the realization that you’ll finally put into work the language abilities you’ve been developing.During your time there, you begin to have random and sometimes irrational concerns. One concern for me was that now that I was immersed in Spanish, what would happen to my English abilities? Anyone who has received a typo-ridden email from me will know that any loss of my native language abilities could be a real detriment to me. The fear was based on the fact that I found myself writing and speaking (English) in a simple, direct manner. When in an immersion course, you learn quickly to say what you can and not what you want.

Example:

What I want to say: Spain would like to have more revenue in order to recapitalize their banks, but the European Union lacks sufficient will to provide the country with the requisite funds.

What I actually say: Spain wants more money. But the EU does not want to give the money to them.

When outside of class I found myself thinking, How would I say that in Spanish? If I couldn’t say it in Spanish, I wouldn’t say it English. It just became so ingrained in me to say things in the most basic way possible. In the end, however, studying Spanish ultimately was a benefit to my English because it made me more aware of grammatical structure.Overall, language training was a great experience. There is something about being at FSI and the fact that you can walk down one hall and hear people speaking Spanish, then take a left and hear people speaking Urdu.And then there’s that other concern about what happens if our next post is somewhere in West Africa and I have to go back to FSI for another six months to learn French …

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

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