Here’s what I’ve learned about learning Spanish…


I’ve been living here in Panama for nearly two years. Before this move I had never in my life tried to learn any other language. As a matter of fact,I don’t even recall having ever spent much time learning my own language! Boy, nothing like learning how much you dont know about your own native tongue while trying to learn another language! I’ve had to re-learn English in order to learn Spanish! Seriously! I enjoy writing, and I also love talking, but when I write, I do my best but I’m sure all you Grammar junkies out there must cringe at my many naive errors. Run on sentences, horrible paragraphs, spelling errors, misuse of commas, wayyyyyyy too many exclamation marks!!!!! Grammatical boo boos that I can’t even begin to even realize I’ve made. As a matter of fact I’m pretty sure my spell check is about ready to throw in the towel! hah!

I’ve never really thought of myself as much of an academic person, I’m one of those people who self- sabotages myself the second I walk into a classroom setting. My self talk is thoroughly successful in making sure I set myself up to feel stupid and fail miserably when it comes to learning. How did I form this terrible perception of myself? Well, this type of insecurity begins at a really young age, at least I believe this to be so for me. I don’t like to spend a lot of time blaming my parents for who I am or giving my childhood credit for my own perception of my reality. But I do think that much of who we are began to form from early experiences in our life, maybe not you, but for me, that’s a truth.

My younger sister seemed to always be so smart. Getting good grades in school seemed to be a breeze for her, while I struggled with even learning to tell time. I remember my parents getting so frustrated with me that they finally kinda came to the conclusion that I was simply not as bright as my sister, and they bought me a digital watch and stopped trying to help me learn to tell time. I had mastered the art of crying when I got frustrated while learning and then magically the gown ups would leave me alone and stop trying to force me to learn. As a young child I have vivid memories of some of these instances. Learning my times tables, telling time, just about any academic task that felt too hard or that required work just made me feel so dumb as I saw how everyone else around me just learned it without much trouble. I began early on to believe that I was not smart. And I managed to convince my parents the same thing. They had a policy in our home that my sister was required to bring home A’s on her report cards and I was required to bring home C’s! It was an accepted fact that I had other talents but would never be an academic person. So, I spent my High School years just trying to get by with as little work as possible. I took the really easy classes and no one ever expected much from me.

Whats the point in all of this? Well, the point is…. here I am, 49 years old and I’m beginning to feel smart. I’m really learning Spanish, slowly to be sure, but learning nonetheless! I know it may sound crazy or mundane, but I’m re-defining my self perception. No one but me creates all that negative, self sabotaging talk in my mind. I somehow went down that road as a youngster in order to get those pesky grown ups of my back! I didn’t want to work hard to learn, I wanted life to be easy. And at some point I bought what I was trying to convince everyone around me, that I wasn’t capable. I began to slowly believe that I was not smart and that since I wasn’t learning as fast or as seemingly easily as all the other kids, I must be different, I must not be smart.

I never had any trouble learning things when It was hands-on. Your not going to believe this, but I actually took typing in High School for two years! Hah! yep! I loved my typing class! And I remember feeling really successful for the first time in my educational career, because I easily memorized where all the letters where on the keyboard. The teacher taught by having a big chart on the wall in the front of the classroom and she had placed small pieces of masking tape over all the keys so we couldn’t see the letters. So, I had to look up at the board to type instead of down at the typewriter. It’s something that’s never left me. To this day I’m a really fast typer. I know, its not the biggest claim to fame, but its a rare instance from my educational years when I felt successful, and probably the only A I ever got in High School! ha!ha! Sad, but true! Obviously I’m a hands-on learner.

I began to really find my place when I started Cosmetology school. It was mostly hands on, of course. There was some book work and studying about chemicals and sanitation and other technical things that I had to learn in order to pass the state board test at the end of the two years of school. But I just really found my stride whenever I was actually learning by doing instead of being forced to try to just memorize information. In my nearly 30 years of work as a stylist I was happiest when I was working with my hands to create something beautiful. Doing hair was about shape and design and color and I never tired of anything to do with creating something pleasing that made my clients happy. It was also very relationship oriented which for me is a huge motivator in my life. If I have an opportunity to create relationships I’m at my best. This blog is also one of the things I’ve discovered that brings people into my life and creates something of significance for me.

This journey called LIFE never stops providing ways for me to know myself better and if I’m observant I can even improve on what I know to be true. For instance, I’ve discovered along the way that I’m not actually dumb! Nope, I simply learn differently and enjoy learning certain things more than other things. I hate numbers and aside from the necessity of learning my numbers in Spanish (which will likely be the last thing I learn! ugh!) , I will very likely never spend a lot of energy learning anything to do with those damn numbers! ugh! I know, for me, If I’m not interested in a particular subject I wont be inclined to spend much energy on learning it.I took up figurative sculpture a few years ago, as I was searching for something to feed my soul during those awful teen years (my daughters teen years, not mine! hah!). As I said, creating something with my hands brings me great pleasure. But, I remember my first day in the sculpture studio. They had a nude model and when she stood up on the little model stand and held her pose all the other sculptures began to work, I was frozen in fear. I was looking around at what they were doing and I felt totally untalented and incapable of doing what they were doing so seemingly effortlessly. That little voice kept saying,”what are you doing here Holly?” “Your not a sculpture” Not to mention, boy, did I learned how little I know about the human anatomy! But I also learned that if I stopped telling myself , in my head, that I couldn’t do it, If instead I just gave myself permission to do my best I did amazingly beautiful things with clay. It was indescribably freeing to see what just came when I let go of my negative self talk.

This is such a repetitive lesson for me. And breaking away from a belief that I embraced so long ago takes time. Stomping down that little voice in my head that says, “You can’t do that!”….always brings about incredible things. I much prefer the voice that says, “Just Do It!”. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to look like how anyone else does it.

I’m a very intuitive person and I like to learn by experience. Which is why this very long and at times arduous process of studying Spanish is so rewarding to me, especially living in a Spanish speaking country! I get to experience a gradual feeling of wonderful, sweet, success in the form of connecting with people who I come into contact with everyday here in Panama. I try my hardest to find ways to be around Spanish speaking people. I smile a lot when I’m walking around town! I’m ultra aware of the fact that I’m a guest here in this wonderful place. I like to express respect and humility when I interact with people here. I talk with anyone I can talk with. When I go to the gas station I get out of my car and go say hola to the female attendant who pumps my gas. I like to go to the station in town where there is a woman manning the pump. I like to ask her how her day is and we talk about the weather as she pumps my gas. I ask her questions about her life and she always tries to speak really slowly so I can understand. She smiles and she knows I’m practicing my spanish and seems happy to help.

I will master this language. It wont be fast and it wont be easy. I may never stop learning Spanish. But I know from experience that when I let go of that awful negativity that my younger self began to believe, a different Holly emerges. A Holly who is determined and dedicated. A Holly who is smart, a Holly who gives herself permission to learn at her own speed. I am not a fast learner. I must be very patient and gentle with myself as I learn. I need a lot of repetition and I need encouraging people around me who don’t make me feel as though I’ve got a problem because they already told me that ten times!! hah!

I’m so blessed to have my good friend Luana teaching me. She retired from nearly 40 years of teaching High School Spanish. I know she, like me, has no intention of working now that she’s retired, but she really wants to help me and her husband and our good Friend Terry learn Spanish, and we are grateful beyond words! She’s an incredibly intuitive teacher. Her many years of teaching Spanish has made her exceptional at spotting different cues about how a student learns. She’s not only very smart and knowledgable about Spanish and Language in general, but she has a spirit of kindness and encouragement that radiates from her. She passionately enjoys seeing people learning. I’ve never had a teacher quite like her. I think that all her wonderful attributes, combined with where I’m at in my life, we make a great team. I’m certain I’m not her first student who has had to overcome negative self talk. I’ve had a couple of instances when I could feel the tears begin to well up in my eyes, during a particularly frustrating moment in our class. Luana gently but firmly lets me know that tears will not get me anywhere. hah! I love that about her! I notice those damn tears haven’t tried to creep out since then. Could it be that that negative self talk has taken to the hills? I think it just might be!
This part of my Adventure, learning Spanish, is one of the most difficult things I’ve embarked upon so far. Which translates to “the most valuable thing”. The gift of communication is what will make my Adventure living here in Panama even more meaningful and I know that all my work and energy is already rewarding me with each word I’m able to speak and every little bit of conversation I’m able to have with these lovely Spanish speaking people I’m surrounded by each day. The smiles, the patience, the kindness and the ability to connect along with the sense of accomplishment that I feel while I’m learning a new language is all motivation enough to keep on going. If you cant tell, I really love to talk….Entonce, necesito hablar español! Esta aventura continúa…….

About hollycarter184

Life is Good! But it's time for a change, and more adventure! I'd like to share the whole experience of preparing then actually making a reality of expatriating, and moving to a new country. It's an exciting, and slightly scary move full of possibility . I'm looking forward to learning a new language and making new connections with the people who share our spirit of adventure. This blog is my way of continuing my connection with my friends and family in the States. Sooooo here it goes! :)

7 responses »

  1. This is a lovely post, Holly! We all have those inner voices that tell us that it can’t be done or that we are unintelligent enough to accomplish our goals. You are realizing this and that is the first step to squashing those thoughts and moving on. We all learn differently, that is so very true! Big Ups to you for continuing to learn about life and about yourself! Give yourself a hug~

  2. Thanks so much for your frank confessions! But most of all, for recognizing that YOU can choose what to listen too. You are a gift!

  3. Best Spanish instructional book I have ever had is called LADY MADRIGAL’S MAGICAL KEY TO SPANISH. Written in the fifties by a Costa Rican woman, and illustrated by Andy Warhol before he became famous. It explains all kinds of things and makes you realize that you already know a ton of Spanish. Good luck with the learning!

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