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Asking a question you’d think I’d know the answer to

I have become obsessed with a question I never thought I would ask:

Why am I learning Spanish?

The question is not whether I want to learn Spanish–let’s not be ridiculous here.  The question is not the existence of the desire, but the object of it.

It first occurred to me to ask myself this when I realized there was no such thing as fluency.  People talk about fluency as if it were a nice grassy park you get to relax in after you come to the end of the language-learning road.  But the language-learning road never ends.  There’s always more vocabulary to learn.  There’s always more subtlety to the accent.  There’s always a more elegant way to write.  Even in my native language I’m continuously refining my speech and writing, so how did I ever get this preposterous idea that there was a paradisaical plateau waiting for me in my second language?

So supreme mastery is out of the question.  But some degree of self-contentment must still be possible.  And that’s what got me wondering why I’m learning Spanish.

If the goal is no higher than surviving travel in Latin America, then I’ve been set for a long time now.  It’s definitely higher than that.  Is it to be able to make a human connection with the residents of the countries I’m traveling in?  To have meaningful conversations?  To make Tico friends?  To get by in school?  To thrive in school?  To participate in scientific research with a Spanish-speaking team?  To publish scientific articles in Spanish?  To be mistaken for a native speaker?  To be as witty and eloquent in my speech and writing as I am in my native language?

The one thing I’m certain about is I have no idea.  It might just be that the only way to know what level of proficiency will satisfy me is to achieve it.  An “I’ll know it when I speak it” sort of thing.


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