My first time to México was a couple's vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Cancún in 2013. You know, cold beer handed to you right off the plane, making friends at the tiki bar, refilling your travel mugs with something frozen, something blue, and calling dibs on a beachfront lounge chair by draping your towel at 4:30 in the morning before the sun comes up. This first trip also awoke my then dormant abilities to speak Spanish. I hadn't uttered a lick of it (other than at 3am ordering from "Burrito House" in Chicago) since I couldn't even remember when.
With a bit of liquid courage (ok, quite a bit), I used Spanish everywhere -- with the waiters, the bus driver, the golf cart vendor, the guy who sold us the private snorkeling trip, and the cute entertainment-staff-pool-volleyball-coordinators-tequila-pourers. Suddenly, I remembered the difference between "arena" (sand) and "harina" (with a silent "h" and means wheat). I surprised myself: "I still remember Spanish from high school?!?!"
I became frustrated with the more difficult verb conjugations towards the end of senior year (grade 12, circa 1996), and decided that was enough Spanish for me. And, after the foreign-language assessment test in college which I passed with flying colores, I wiped my hands clean of this unnecessary elective.
On New Year's Eve 1999 (yes, we were singing Prince's "Party Like it's '99" constantly!), I went with my bestie Kel on a trip to Madrid from my study-abroad stance in England (in London, to be exact, where now I was literally studying "English Literature" because a creative writing degree wouldn't transfer to the UK due to "colourful" writing differences). Kel and I were trying to find a hotel and everything was completely booked for the night.
We resolved to lock our giant backpacker backpacks in a public locker at a bus station and just try to STAY UP ALL NIGHT!!! After all, it's New Year's in Spain!
"I wonder what's going on tonight?" I wondered. (hehe) We saw a kiosk with newspapers and Kel made me go up and ask the guy because she was too nervous to use the language -- and SHE was the one who was going to be studying Spanish in Spain, not me!
"Do you speak English?" I asked? "No," he scoffed and annoyingly turned his head away. "Pues, estoy buscando una guía para saber algo de los evento para celebrar el año nuevo. Ud. tiene algo así?" (I am looking for a guide of events happening tonight to celebrate New Year's Eve. Do you happen to have something like this?") He turned, and with raised eyebrows, smiled and handed me exactly that, for which I paid, said "Gracias!" and walked away tall-shouldered and grinning. Spanish Saved New Year's!
We partied with Australians and ate grapes as we did the countdown in Spanish (easy!). We hurled our empty champaign bottles into the middle of the thumping ring of celebratory Spaniards and cheered as the glass bits shattered in a fountain of new year's resolutions. (What? Everyone was doing it...) I sat in on a drum circle on Las Ramblas, and we played tug-of-war with a street thief who had unbuckled my fanny pack as Kel yelled "Ladrón!" (Theif!) I thought she was saying "ratón" (rat) which seemed applicable as well. We won! Spanish Saved New Year's!
We went dancing late into the night and wore out our feet and our dance cards. When we saw full-on families, including babies and 80-year-old grandmas, propped up against the mall's walls and totally passed out 4am in public, we knew it was cool to do the same. In the morning, we winded out way back to the backpacks, found a couple open beds to sleep the day away and celebrated the first day of 1999 with a romantic Italian pasta dinner in the capital of Spain.
Going back (or forward) to 2013 in México, I found that I had many instances where knowing Spanish saved the day, that by using the language I could actually communicate. I felt I had a superpower that I wasn't actively exercising! So, I began re-learning on my own, listening to music, reading Spanish text books I found at the thrift store, and only watching movies with Spanish subtitles. I didn't know what would come next in my life, but this learning topic interested me, I already had momentum, and who knew if it could maybe be a useful collaborator with my music and life planning?
Now, I am learning Spanish by my own motivation. I was determined to pick up where I had left off and speed right ahead. It has worked, but I also make mistakes every day. Keep focus on the small victories and the breakthroughs along the way, and you'll find yourself having more and more of them. Learning another language is a process, not check-marked task.
Today is December 29, 2019... A ver que va a pasar este Año Nuevo! (Let's see what happens this New Year!)