A little bit before I came back from down south I decided I wanted to learn Spanish. When in was in Japan I decided I wanted to learn Japanese, but I didn’t stick with it. There were a number of reasons, some of which aren’t resolved as of this attempt at learning Spanish, but others that are.
I have been going pretty solidly at it for almost a month now and wanted to talk a bit about my journey so far. I also want to talk about why Spanish, and what I hope to get out of it, and why not Japanese and am I ever going to revisit Japanese?
The why is pretty easy. To quote the great Korben Dallas: “I only know two languages: English and bad English.” I’m actually a bit surprised and somewhat disappointed in myself that I lived in Los Angeles for 9 years, sometimes in very heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, and didn’t pick up Spanish. It could have been very handy. There are a lot of really great people in Los Angeles who speak Spanish but not English and it would have been great to be able to talk to those folks.
As of late I’ve also been doing a fair amount of traveling. Once to a place where almost nobody speaks English (Japan), and once to a place where English is widely spoken but not the native language (Iceland). There are many other places I’d love to go where English isn’t the primary language spoken or even spoken by a significant portion of the people. So I should really pick up another language.
But why Spanish? In short: it’s easier than Japanese and spoken in a lot more places. But there’s some deeper reasoning behind this.
During my trip and since, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s next. For the moment I’ve settled on going back to work, but I also have decided that I need to take a very active role in figuring out what’s next and how to do it, rather than “just wait until I have lots of money and just travel”. If I can work while traveling, my travels will be able to last a lot longer. There are problems with that, though. I am over 30, so I’m no longer eligible for most (all?) working holiday visa programs offered in some countries. I also don’t have a degree. This makes it very hard to get a work visa, even if I am otherwise more than qualified for a position. So the countries I can legitimately work in are very few, and I’d assume that most of those places aren’t primarily English speaking places.
One of the directions I’ve been looking in is getting a TEFL certificate and going to teach English somewhere for a while. There are a good number of countries where I can find work teaching English with a TEFL and no degree, but in some of the cases I’ve looked this usually involves working for cash under the table on a visitor visa which is actually only moderately illegal or not illegal, or illegal but nobody really cares, or whatever, but given that these tend to not pay taxes or provide benefits or whatever, it all feels extremely shady and not something I’d like to do if I can avoid it. I’d much prefer to be above board, even if it involves some hassle.
Another direction is going back to school and getting a degree. This is something I’m VERY interested in, but schools in the US are outrageously expensive, and I’m not willing to go to a diploma mill or something. So to go to school full time would cost me a lot of money and probably make it hard or impossible to work while I do it, at least not for any reasonable amount of money so I’m not completely bleeding cash, and I’m not very interested in taking on large amounts of debt. If I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to study, how much it would cost, and he quickly I could turn that degree into a high dollar job to pay off the loans, I might be more interested, but for the moment a 4 year commitment without much vision is fairly intimidating to me.
There are, however, places in the world with free or inexpensive higher education. Germany, France, Argentina, Colombia, I think Sweden or Norway or Finland or maybe all of them. This goes for foreigners as well. Some have English language programs, or like first year English while you learn the local language or whatever. I’m still looking into these, but I’ve already ruled out Germany, my high school diploma doesn’t fit their admissions requirements meaning I’d have to enroll in what I guess is their equivalent of a GED, but that requires proficiency in German. Colombia and Argentina are Spanish speaking programs (hence Spanish). France has some English programs, and I’m exploring those, they may fit the bill, but I’m hedging with Spanish, too. The Nordic countries are great but expensive and cold!
So, the thing I’m kinda thinking right now is learn Spanish, get a TEFL, go to a Spanish speaking country with inexpensive school, and try to figure out a visa situation. Some places might have Spanish classes I can take for a year to get me qualified for university and also qualify me for a student visa which allows me to work part time. Then once I get the degree the whole world literally opens up for me.
So that’s why Spanish and what I hope to get out of it. If nothing else also, it is something fun to do. And learning something new is good for the brain.
So why not Japanese? For one it’s significantly harder to learn. Not only is the grammar wildly different, but there’s the added difficulty of Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana only took a few days to learn, and they will be very useful if I return to Japan, but they aren’t even the entire picture. I feel like I’ll be able to learn the language a lot more quickly if I can read it, and Spanish gets me that. Sure, I can learn a bunch of kanji on the side, and would have to, but it’s one more added difficulty that I don’t want to have discouraging me.
Additionally, while I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Japan, and very much want to go back, I honestly don’t think I would ever want to move there permanently. So learning the language would be mostly an academic exercise and be useful for visiting and as a fun party trick, but not all that useful in my daily life. Japan is not a country with free education, and cost of living would be roughly comparable. Plus I likely would not be able to get a student visa for Japanese classes in Japan, and therefore no way to work while I’m there or even stay an extended period of time, and there are no primarily English programs in Japan that I know of.
I do eventually want to learn Japanese and depending how some of these other irons I have in the fire end up, I may switch back to Japanese, but for the moment I’m focusing on Spanish.
One more motivator is I know of at least one company doing tech educational materials in Spanish language, so who knows, maybe I can get a job doing that. There are a lot more Spanish speakers than Spanish speakers who know tech, and I have skills that people would also like to have, so there’s definitely a market for it.
Anywho. This iteration of my language learning is getting off to a good start. I hope to write more about my adventure, and about things I learn along the way and tools and techniques I use and discover. Hopefully at some point I can write a post titled “Yo hablo español”.