I want to share something personal with you all…
I Struggle With Regrets – Like Anyone.
There’s one thing in particular that has been weighing me down…
It’s that I can’t speak Spanish…
Even after 6+ years in grade school taking the language and being part of a Spanish family, I still can’t speak it fluently. Most definitely not comfortably.
Here’s the thing…
My Mom Is From Chile In South America.
My Dad, On The Other Hand, Is Canadian.
We never spoke the language at home while I was growing up. Except for a few key words like “hola” and “ciao”.
While all my cousins were busy picking up the language that was being spoken around them, I couldn’t put together a single sentence. I couldn’t even have a conversation with my grandparents…
This Past Fall, My Grandfather Suffered a Stroke.
He wasn’t able to recover.
Just before Christmas, he passed away…
I thought long and hard about how my entire life I never had a full conversation with him – not unless someone translated for us.
I wish the language had stuck. I wish I could’ve had a real conversation with him.
Because He Had One Heck Of A Story To Tell…
During the 1970’s, Chile was anything but a peaceful place.
The military overthrew the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende. This was the start of military rule in the country.
Many Chilean citizens like my Grandfather, supported the efforts of President Salvador Allende. He brought civilian rule, stability and peace to the country.
But all of that ended in 1973 when President Allende was killed and the General of the Military Coup took over.
It became illegal to show any support for the old government.
And my grandfather…
Well… He was an activist who supported the old government.
The military dictatorship would raid homes and look for signs of support.
They found my grandfather.
He was taken away. He became a prisoner of this war.
I wish I could have asked him about it. I wish I could have gotten more details.
Although, even if I spoke Spanish, I don’t know that he would have been able to tell me everything without crying.
He disappeared for some time…
And when he returned to his family, they (along with other families who supported the old government) fled to Argentina.
But in Argentina, things weren’t any easier.
Homes were raided again and again by the military in search of supporters of the old government.
My mom, who was only 5 at the time, tells me how she remembers being forced out of their little temporary home and shuffled down the stairs with her 7 siblings. They would all wait until the search was over and they could return up the stairs.
I was told that my grandpa carried a picture of the old president and hid it while in Argentina. Luckily, they never found it.
Eventually, my family was able to leave the war-ridden land in search of a new home.
A New Home In Canada.
A friend of mine in university once wrote a paper on my grandfather. She interviewed him about his time as a prisoner in Chile.
Sadly, her computer was stolen and I never got the chance to read all that he said.
Another reason this regret of not learning Spanish hung heavily on my shoulders.
This Blog Post Is Not About Regret.
It’s about REFLECTING and LEARNING!
After all this, I realized… I still have one grandparent left – My beautiful Abuela.
And she has her own story to tell.
I decided that I didn’t want a language barrier to be the reason my grandmother could not tell me her story either.
I Took Action!
I made the decision to learn Spanish (finally)! For my grandmother and my grandfather.
And… I used the practice of Mindfulness to help me shift into a growth mindset to learn this new language!
Here’s how I’ve been learning Spanish with the help of Mindfulness:
1. Find Calm:
My first step in moving forward in my Spanish journey was to practice forgiveness. I had to forgive myself for not learning Spanish earlier. I had to let go of the past and move forward with the present. I had to find my calm and not let the past control my future. It all began with that mindset shift. To reflect and learn from my mistakes. And to remind myself that it’s never too late to learn something new.
2. Get Curious:
To learn from my past self and move forward, I had to ask myself a few questions. Questions like “Why hadn’t I been able to retain the language before?” “What can I do differently this time around?” “What can I use to motivate myself?”
Upon reflecting, I noticed that when I tried to learn Spanish before, it was as an adolescent. I was a kid who didn’t care and a kid who was not self-aware. I’ve changed since then and so has my motivation to learn Spanish. I was able to use these questions to nail down my WHY and HOW I wanted to proceed.
3. Make Connections:
Since I did have some experience being around the Spanish language, I could understand it slightly (only if someone spoke REALLY slowly), but I couldn’t speak it. I knew, to get better at speaking the language, I had to practice speaking the language.
I made plans to connect with family members and friends where we could have real conversations in Spanish. I even got myself a few penpals, young cousins of mine, who’d help me practice my written Spanish! I am grateful for my family’s patience with me.
4. Get Creative:
Since I was no longer in school, and didn’t have a dedicated time and class to attend Spanish, I had to figure out my own schedule to practice. I had to get creative!! And because speaking is much harder for me, I knew I had to practice any chance I got!
I live about an hour from most of my Spanish family and being with them all the time is not ideal.
So… this meant I started speaking to my boyfriend in Spanish (who is definitely NOT Spanish), I started speaking to my pets and even shared some of my thoughts out loud in Spanish. I realize I looked pretty crazy some days, but you gotta do what you gotta do!
5. Make a Commitment:
The final step was to make a commitment. To myself. To this life-long journey. And to not get discouraged when the going gets tough.
To make this commitment manageable, I broke down my commitments into small attainable goals. Goals that I could work towards every day. I adopted this practice of ‘Kaizen’ (a Japanese word that means continuous improvement through small, incremental steps). I committed to practicing 15 minutes of Spanish everyday through the Duolingo app. This was manageable. This has been something I’ve been able to commit to.
I also made the commitment to visit my Spanish family more. To speak with them more. I used to be embarrassed to visit them… Because I couldn’t really speak to them. But not anymore. Now, I CHOOSE to visit them to learn from them. Now, I feel like I belong.
Is There Something You’ve Been Wanting To Learn,
But Something Has Been Holding You Back?
Maybe it’s a language too, or maybe you want to learn how to cook. Or maybe you’ve been waiting years to finally pick up that old guitar and learn how to play it.
Whatever your challenge is, I hope you can use this story as inspiration to push through those obstacles.
To use the power of Mindfulness to move forward in your learning and growth.
Cassandra (a.k.a Miss T)