If you’ve watched Bruno Mar’s “Uptown Funk” video, I’m sure you noticed more than Bruno Mars rocking that on point roller set. That guy dancing like there was no tomorrow was Phillip Lawrence, Bruno’s right-hand-man when it comes to scripting hits like “Nothing On You”. I was captivated by his performance and I laughed at 3:15 when he did a little dance of his own. Phillip’s performance got me to thinking, what if every language learner committed themselves to speaking the language with the commitment this dancer showed in the video? What if you committed yourself to being enthusiastic, into it and sin miedo? Imaginate how much better your speaking skills would be! What’s holding you back from evoking that Phillip-like flare? Is it the risk of sounding stupid? The fear that you won’t be accepted by native speakers if you try? Whatever your reservation, here are a few tips for you to use your second language with fierceness!
1. Remember why you started in the first place
I remember my first years learning the language as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 13 year old. I was eager to speak my new phrases to anyone who would listen. Fumbling over words, developing that ‘r’ roll and lacking sentence structure and conjugations, I went fearlessly into the unknown world of language and culture (different yet connected with my own). It’s those moments that keep me going when I’m faced with a new word that’s hard to pronounce.
2.You’ll never be perfect, but you will be AWESOME
After high school, something happened. That boldness left me and I barely spoke up in my Spanish courses and began answering bilinguals who addressed me in Spanish in my native tongue. I could understand what they were saying but I couldn’t respond. That frustrated me. I felt inadequate and I wanted to wait for my Spanish to be perfect. Newsflash chic@ it probably never will be. So just keep going, even if you make mistakes. Be a sponge and take in everything. You’re bound to get the hang of it.
3. Practice with anyone who will let you AND WELCOME THEIR CRITIQUES
In 2014, I made it my priority to practice speaking whenever I could.
To my Dad
To my more advanced bilingual and native speaker friends
To my mom’s family members she shows her “Bilingual Daughter” off to.
To the Spanish speaking customers at my old job
To the waitress who spoke Spanish to my two friends and responded to me in English
Even if I slip up and use Americano when describing myself or have to make up a word (‘slapiar’ is my favorite), I keep on talking because that is the only way you can get better. I used to be really scared of criticism. I have a Spanish Teacher/Native Speaker friend who hated speaking Spanish with me during my freshman year of college because I’d always get offended when he’d correct me. Now, I’ve learned to take it as a growing lesson.
4. Teach others what you learn
Who says you need a fancy degree to teach you new language? I taught a Spanish course at Upward Bound Program during my senior year of college and I give Spanish lessons to my family. Even if you are a new language learner, you can still teach. By teaching, you are reinforcing what you learned in your own mind. Did you learn a new word from a Celia Cruz tune? Share it. Don’t force it down your family’s throat but share it with folks that are genuinely interested. You never know. You may be the inspiration that they need to try something new.
5. Tell the naysayers (aka l@s haters) “Don’t believe me just watch”
When you are doing something to better yourself, you will always have those who try to deter you from your goal. For me, it was high school classmates telling me that by speaking Spanish I was denying my Blackness. And guess what? I believed them for a moment. I challenge you not to believe them at all. Watch your telenovelas. Jam Los Rakas. Go to Salsa class if you have to. Create an environment where you can achieve your goal.
While on your language learning journey, you will face many challenges but you will also receive many rewards. Being able to survive in a Spanish-speaking country, flirt with a prospective lover or have more job options because of your abilities are just a few. It opens up a new world of music, films, culture and friends that you can connect with. So channel your inner Uptown Funky Phillip and get to speaking!
Were you once scared to speak Spanish for fear of making mistakes? What are your tips for speaking boldly in your second language? Comment below or tweet me with the hashtag #MultilingualBlackPeople.
© Jelisa Jay Robinson and Black Girl, Latin World, 2015