Finding Fuerza

Rediscovering, practicing and mastering my favorite language

Finding Fuerza

I can vividly remember being the overly eager third grader in my after-school Spanish program, not even realizing what a gift the language was.

I was usually too excited to even raise my hand, and I would blurt out words like amarillo (yellow), cien (one hundred) and domingo (Sunday) whenever I could. By the time I left elementary school, I could count to 100, ask for directions, say basic things about my identity and name every little thing in my house in Spanish as well as I could in English.

In many ways, I’m still that exuberant third grader with a thirst for knowledge and linguistics. I continued studying Spanish in high school and for three years in college. But a few years ago, it occurred to me that despite knowing all the grammar there is to know and having a very expansive vocabulary, I was not fluent. So, I threw myself back into learning.

One night last month, that drive to learn Spanish gave me more fuerza, or strength, than I could’ve imagined. After hanging out with my Colombian friend Diana, I drove her home and talked to her mom for the second time ever. The first time we met, I wanted to say “mucho gusto,” which means “nice to meet you,” but I was too nervous and self-conscious. This time, I challenged myself to use as much Spanish as possible.

That night, I found myself comfortable speaking about everything I could — cats, traveling, school and food. My words flowed with ease, and I felt myself thinking in two languages at once.

Diana’s mom then served me a fresh empanada and extras to bring home. On the way out, she looked at me and said, “gracias por traer mi hija a casa,” meaning “thank you for bringing my daughter home.” I replied “de nada,” and told her to have a good night. I drove home with a new sense of confidence and the inspiration to never give up again.

In the years since I started relearning Spanish, I quit on multiple occasions, convinced that it is simply too difficult, or I didn’t have the time. My love for this gorgeous language has proven stronger than all my frustrations.

Now I listen to Reggaeton more than any other genre. I frequently post on social media in Spanish, some of my favorite movies, shows and Podcasts are in Spanish and I can speak “Spanglish” with my Latina friends on campus.

To learn a language, necesitas tener agallas—you need to have guts. You need them because it requires you to leave your comfort zone, challenge your brain, immerse yourself into unfamiliar waters and know that success will not come overnight. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have.

I’m still not fluent, but I have opened up my mind to a completely new universe of entertainment, idioms, humor, cultures and ways of thinking.

When it comes to learning this beautiful language, I still carry the same exuberance, drive and passion within me. If my third-grade self could see me now, I think she would be proud of all the progress I’ve made.

courses
Brittany Valentine
Brittany Valentine
Read next: The Unconventional College Life