Language Learning Observations

Here we are at La Ronda in Quito. This is Tony's first trip to South America and his first time in a Spanish speaking country.

quitosquareMy husband and I arrived in Quito yesterday and despite the altitude sickness that I tend to experience, we are having a blast as tourists here before departing for Cuenca, where we have an apartment rented for a two month stay.

Traveling with my husband Tony has been quite an experience so far.  You see, he left the US not knowing ANY Spanish despite my best efforts.  We were so insanely busy dashing around to prepare for our domestic move and then made a quick (but rather brilliant) decision to transition to Western North Carolina in the most logical and efficient way possible – via Ecuador  –  that we hadn’t really had time to do much more than handle logistics.  That meant finding housing in Asheville for late January 2014, finding a tenant for our apartment in Winston Salem and also finding housing in Cuenca.  Piece of cake! Easy peasy!


But we did it.  And in the midst of it all, I kept squeezing in mini language lessons via casual discussion with Tony while we packed, ran errands, ate dinner…basically whenever we were awake.  I’d say a word in Spanish here and there and try to toss in some cultural lesson too. There was only one problem:  Tony wasn’t having it.  We were stressed out from the enormous list of tasks that we had written up (and that I color coded for each of us – very “type A” for me as that is not at all my style) – but we knew things HAD to get done.  There was no flexibility in our plan because it was something we decided very quickly and had less than 60 days to make it happen. And Tony made it very clear that he couldn’t squeeze one more ounce of information in his head during our crazy schedules.

I left thinking that Tony would likely need to be glued to my hip for a few weeks because he simply doesn’t know Spanish.  Once again, my sweet husband surprised me and I have to share my observations with you because the lessons I’m learning are relevant to those going abroad.

Here we are at La Ronda in Quito.  This is Tony's first trip to South America and his first time in a Spanish speaking country.
Here we are at La Ronda in Quito. This is Tony’s first trip to South America and his first time in a Spanish speaking country.
  • Tony reached out to learn Spanish when HE was ready, not when I was ready for HIM to be ready.  Language, beyond the most basic words, won’t be learned until the person wants to learn it. Tony WANTS to learn Spanish and he is now ready.
  • His curiosity switch flipped to the “on” position just a few days before we left.  As a digital media expert, he often takes to social media to share his thoughts (vs communicating them to me directly)!  I read on his Facebook page that we were readying for this adventure and that he was looking forward to learning Spanish as a priority. #whatyoulearnaboutyourhusbandonFB
  • From the minute we boarded the plane and Tony heard people around us talking Spanish, his ears perked up.  He’d hear a word repeated around him and then he’d lean in to ask me what it meant.  He came to me instead of me coming to him.
  • When we landed in Ecuador, he was excitedly saying gracias to anyone who helped him in any way.  He observed the signs in the airport and made the logical connections such as Salida = exit, Baños  = bathroom.   And when a kind man named Fernando spoke with while we waited for our luggage, Tony said “Mi nombre es Tony”.  Who knew he had been paying attention to my little home language lessons?!
  • Tony talking with Maria, the tour guide at the Casa Museo in Quito.
    Tony talking with Maria, the tour guide at the Casa Museo in Quito.

    We’re a whole two days into our stay in Ecuador and Tony has a vocabulary of approximately 25 words already. He is able to answer VERY basic questions in relatively full sentences. I’ve observed my husband going from a Spanish language zero to hero in less than 48 hours in country!  After reading about Benny Lewis, the Irish polyglot (who we hope to interview for the blog soon!), I really do believe Tony will be able to acquire a low intermediate level of Spanish in the couple of months that we are here.  Caveat: He has to stick with it and speak it constantly.  If you don’t immerse yourself in it completely and ask people to allow you to practice the language, you won’t learn it. Simple as that!

  • While I have lived with this man for more than 8 years, I am shocked to observe that Tony is an experiential learner.  By day, he is a digital strategist who thinks in a very, and I mean VERY, linear fashion.  But somehow, during the past two days, I’ve watched him dive right into any opportunities to use the handful of words he has learned.  This is a man who quiety googled “toilet paper in Spanish” and then enthusiastically went to the front desk to ask for papel higiénico…all because I mentioned we’d need more for the hotel room. He was so proud of himself when he returned to the room with 2 rolls!  (I know, TMI!)

When I observe Tony’s approach to Spanish, I am reminded of my personal language acquisition journey. It has been a difficult one. I have hit a language plateau and I don’t mean a little bump, I mean bumper car style neck trashing challenging! I feel like I’ve been arm wrestling with the Spanish language for nearly three decades!  I too must immerse myself to bust through this level that I’ve been stuck at for what feels like a lifetime. Watching Tony over the past 48 hours, I’m inspired that I can!

I hope you’ll observe my journey from afar and share your tips to learning language with me in the comments below.  Muchisimas gracias por su ayuda!

Missyheadshot2.jpegAbout the Author: Missy Gluckmann is the founder of Melibee Global. She and her husband Tony are living in Ecuador for 2 months so that they can both learn Spanish. They also intend to try every variation of gluten free empanadas de verde that they can get their hands on! You can learn more about why she built Melibee Global and her background here.