Good evening and thank you for inviting me to this special event.
The first thing I’d like to say is Congratulations to all the inductees.
It’s great that in this country there are honor societies for academic excellence because in Spain we do not have such societies to recognize students’ achievements.
The effort of a student is usually reflected in their grade but, that’s it.
Many times one does not actually feel that their hard work is paying off so it’s important that, from time to time, someone tells you: well done!
And this is not only words, this is a nice tradition that officially recognize academic efforts and good citizenship and you should ALL feel proud of yourselves.
So let's start by giving each other and yourself a big round of applause...
When I was offered the opportunity to speak at this event I couldn’t turn it down (despite my stage fright).
Because I LOVE languages due to all the things that they bring.
But this wasn’t always the case. I’m going to tell you a little bit about my relationship with languages, more specifically with English, and how I ended up here, right here.
Before coming to the States last September, I had always lived in San Fernando de Henares, a town very closed to Madrid.
When I was a child almost everybody in the school was from Madrid.
We all had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, beliefs and traditions so there was no cultural diversity.
The most exciting person you could find was someone who didn’t live in the same town and had to come to school by car everyday from a remote town 10 miles away (Yes, most of us walked to school).
At that time, adults used to say that learning English was important, but they didn’t know any English and I didn’t need English for anything, therefore it was difficult for me to understand why it was SO important.
Now in Spain one starts learning a second language at 3 and there are many bilingual schools. But when I was in school we started at the age of nine, and this is the time when the first stage of my relationship with a new language starts. It’s called:
Language as a subject.
Suddenly in 3rd grade you started learning a new subject: English.
You just needed to learn another name for the things you already knew, “madre” was now mother, “padre” was now father and instead of having “diez dedos” now you had “ten fingers”.
You just needed to memorize some words and you would get an A.
Year after year we studied the same thing: some new words and some new structures.
It was easy for me so I liked it.
Maybe some of you are still in this phase in which you just really care about your grade. That’s fine.
Then, around the age of 12 - 13 I started to have new interests and one of them was music, this is how the second stage starts:
Language as a Tool:
Most of the songs I liked were in English and I tried to learn them by heart reading the lyrics over and over again.
I could just understand some words so I started to look up the rest of them in order to know what I was singing.
Everytime I liked a song I would seat calmly with the lyrics and my dictionary and spent some time there until the song made sense.
It wasn’t as easy as nowadays that you just type the title of a song and you have the lyrics in any language you want and, if you don’t find the translation, Google will do it for you.
Translating was hard work before the Google translator age and I didn’t want to spend so much time translating. Over time, I realized that the songs had patterns and words that were used all the time and I started to learned them thanks to the repetition. This helped me to translate much faster and made English at school easier for me.
English was still a subject but, at least, it was useful.
When I was 19 years old English gained a whole new meaning and I call this phase:
Language as a key.
People say that it’s good to learn languages because they open doors.
When they say this, they usually mean that you would have more possibilities to get into college or to find a good job if you know another language.
And that’s right, I have experienced that myself.
And yet, I feel that this is just a small part of what the language has given me.
In my case, English opened not only a door, but a gate to a new world, a world full of great people, amazing places, job opportunities, and a brand-new me.
When I was 19 years old I went to Ireland for a month to study English.
The first thing I realized was that I could barely communicate but, I had been studying for 10 years! I had learned so many complicated words… but I needed the dictionary to say: ‘the heater doesn’t work’.
I went from being unable to say a word the first week to four weeks later finding myself in the airport in tears missing all the people I had just met and remembering all the great things we had done.
I really wanted to stay! and I actually went back the two following summers.
So, what did I learn during these months in Ireland?
Well, I learnt English (Thank Goodness).
but most important, how this experience changed ME and MY perception of English?
Thanks to the language I was learning,
I met people from all over the world and we could communicate with each other.
They had different perspectives of the world and at the same time we were very similar
My mind and my way of thinking were quickly broaden and the world became smaller
To sum up: I changed
Mastering English and actually using it was “life altering” for me.
I was able to feel things I hadn’t felt before.
For example, I started to watch movies in Original Version and I could notice the cultural side of them.
I started to read in English and I felt different emotions than when I read in Spanish.
I realized I felt less shy when I talked to people in English, and I laughed at jokes that I wouldn’t have found funny in Spanish.
English was no longer a subject, it was a part of me.
As Federico Fellini said: “a different language is a DIFFERENT VISION of life”.
English itself also took me to different places around the world that I couldn’t have discovered the way I did without speaking the language and, most importantly, it took me to New York, my childhood dream.
I had always wanted to come to the U.S but my family was not really interested and my friends were always making excuses:
“I don't have time”
“I dont have the money”
In 2010 I couldn’t wait any longer, so I decided to go on my own.
In 3 weeks, I fell in love with NYC.
I went to dance classes in one of the most famous schools in the world,
I had English lessons where I met great people from Italy, Japan, China, France…
I visited the most iconic places, I saw wonderful sunsets, I saw people filming on the streets...
But I couldn’t stop dreaming, now I wanted to experience the american way of life, I wanted to live at the other side of the Atlantic in order to experience all that I had always seen in movies, tv shows…
I started to look for the possibilities I had and I applied to a couple of programs.
All the efforts I had made to reach the level of English I have today helped me to have the best application to become a Spanish Language and Culture Assistant in the US through the Spanish Embassy.
Thanks to that, I am here today, living my dream.
I must say it’s not easy to leave your comfortable life with a job, near your family and friends and start from scratch in a place with a different language and culture.
But it’s TOTALLY worth it.
All that I’m LEARNING, all that I’m EXPERIENCING, all the AMAZING people I’ve met, all that I am sharing, make this experience priceless.
I’m also taking risks all the time, going beyond what I would do in Spain and I can do it because I know the language, and everything is making me grow that much as a person and as a teacher that I can’t miss the opportunity to challenge myself and get that different perspective of life that Fellini mentioned.
For instance, I am so out of my comfort zone right now speaking before you in a language different from my mother tongue… but as Nelson Mandela said once:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”.
Everyone of you is going to have a different journey learning languages but I can assure you that all you can get from mastering a new language is going to contribute to your personal, academic and professional growth.
Learning a language and its culture can turn into a great adventure and it can even make your dreams come true.