• Jenesis Bonilla

Adventures in Learning a Foreign Language



Have you ever wondered what a person must go through to actually learn a new language? To be fluent and to hold a conversation that is longer than “where is the bathroom?” Learning a new language is fun and has lots of benefits, but the road to calling yourself bilingual/multilingual is not easy. Read on to find out why.


The first step of something entirely new

“Learn a second language! It will be fun.” “Being bilingual has lots of benefits; you can find better job opportunities.” “It is so beneficial for the brain to know two languages.” These are all typical comments people make when it comes to being a person that speaks more than one language. All of these comments are true as they do benefit a person. However, no one ever talks about the road to being bilingual.

In order to master a second, third or fourth language one has to work hard. One has to put in an effort and learn not only a language, but the grammar that comes with a language, and the culture of the language.

As an English language learner, myself, I learned English at an early age, when I was 4. This is the ideal time for most individuals to learn a language. You are little and your brain is essentially a sponge. Soaking up all the rules and forms in which language is used. However, when you are older this task is not as easy. You start questioning grammar rules, and you really question and ask yourself why is this language so weird?!


The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.

One of the things that may be the most difficult for a person to master when learning a second language is grammar. Grammar can be viewed as the whole system and structure of a language. The rules and order of the language: the syntax. Learning a language’s syntax is often a challenge as each language has its own syntax. English and Spanish follow the same syntax of Subject first and Verb second and Object third (SVO). The basic structure of both languages is the same, but when it comes to the position of adjectives this is where things get sticky.


In Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun where in English the adjective comes before. For example, in Spanish the sentence: El gato negro/The black cat, the cat which is the noun comes first then the color/adjective comes after the noun, changing this sentence into The black cat in English. This small change in grammar may not seem to difficult now but when. You are learning the language it can cause confusion.


Another challenge in learning a language is tense, especially in English. There are many different ways to say the verb “eat” in English. These versions can vary from I will eat, I will be eating, I would have eaten, I was eating, I ate, I have been eating. This list of different tenses can go on but as you can see there are very different ways to state that you are eating. Learning these variations from Spanish to English can be confusing you have no way of knowing how or when to use them in the proper way. I struggle with tense still, and I am an adult that has been speaking English for over 20 years.

Lastly, you can struggle with learning a language culture. Depending on where you are and who you are with you will use different language. If you are applying for a job the language that you are going to speak at that interview will be very different than the language you would use at a party. The culture of using language is important. For example, when to use words like “lit.” This word actually means the past of light, but when used in a party setting means excited or a simile of fire or excitement. Words and how you use them have different meanings depending on the context in which you use them. This is an important part of learning the language as you want to integrate into a culture. You do not want to be the one that speaks like they are at a party when interviewing for a job.


How to master the language?

There is not a clear solution to overcoming the difficulties of learning a language. I could give a short survival guide on tips and tricks, but what does a person that is actually trying to learn a language? The real answer is to speak. Speak and practice all the time. Learn by trial and error. Speak to the T.V., go to the party and speak and listen to what is happening. The real way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the language and the culture of the language. And if you are unsure of when and how to use a word, ask for help. There is nothing wrong with a person when they are learning a language and ask for help. This shows that you are embarrassing and learning something new.

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