Part of my preparation for our move is taking an online “Spanish Express” course. The toughest 45 minutes of my week are those spent Skyping with my mentor, an enthusiastic and encouraging native speaker named Maria, who prods me to say more than I know in Spanish, then praises me for giving it a shot. “Perfecto Fran!” she says. I could listen to that all day.
But as helpful as Maria is, I still dread our conversations. I’m so used to thinking of myself as a professional writer and communicator, and for the first time in my life I’m stumbling around for the most basic words, including greetings, many of which I learn and forget right away. Don’t even ask me about grammar or sentence structure.
People tell me that, once we’re in Mexico, I’ll quickly become as fluent as I want to be. But I’m fifty-dang-three, and learning language is just plain hard. Mark has been spending five hours a day in Spanish class at the Foreign Service Institute for nearly five months now, plus two or three hours of homework each night. He already had some Spanish to start and he’s tremendously motivated. And he still struggles at times.
But I just read an article in the Times about the real benefit of learning a language at our age — cognitive regeneration. Apparently, even failing at it has some great advantages for older people’s thinking power. Here’s the link:
So I will slog through the conjugation of the irregular and important Spanish verb tener (to have), even though I want to run screaming for a nice, friendly Dr. Seuss book. I may still be drawing pictures in the air to communicate when we’re in Mexico, but at least my failing mind will have more of a fighting chance.