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Pressure makes diamonds – Billy Worthy’s Spanish immersion experience

I took Spanish language courses in High School and College. I never did well in either place. Nothing stuck honestly, not even for exams. I’d try to learn it in class and then I’d lose it the second I was back in an English speaking world. I made a promise with myself after getting chewed out by one of my favorite teachers that I would go to a Spanish speaking country, learn the language, and come back to have a conversation with him. (quick aside: this was the impetus for me going to Peace Corps, lol) Unfortunately, he passed before that could happen, but I would not be able to do the things I want had I not been in a language immersed environment.

Billy in mentorship program

I went to Costa Rica in the winter of 2010. I had one of the lowest levels of language capacity in the group, but I was optimistic. The first 3 days were nice, we were all around each other speaking English, listening to some music in Spanish, and just basking in our new surroundings. Then we were separated and brought to out communities. I was kind of scared and confused as to why I was placed with this older couple near the town center. I Love them so much now! From day 1 they had a guy who was tall, somewhat strong, and willing to learn. I was on the roof in no time adjusting the antenna for the TV! I had an upstairs room to myself that had an old TV that really only got music videos, so I could shut myself off if needed to be. I did this a lot during my time there. I came out when I needed to and worked on my Spanish when I was in public, but my room was my fortress. That changed when I was on a bus heading to a place I had never been with severe diarrhea. I had no way of telling the bus driver to stop the bus, because even if I knew the words to say, I lacked the confidence to say them. 

Billy with puppy _ Spanish immersion program

I say all of that to say this: Learning a language is not just about learning vocabulary, conjugating verbs and the like. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is important, but learning a language is about learning the culture of the speakers as well. For me learning the language with hand in hand with learning the culture of those who spoke the language, from learning how to make tortillas from scratch, to understanding their connection with the land and crops. The bond between language and culture is inextricably linked and immersion gives you the best of both. The curve, though steep, is surrounded by hands of those who are willing to grab you and pull you up to help you with the language. They see you working hard, they see you trying, they see you failing, but they also see you getting better, and they are there to help! This was my experience, the words and phrases stick, long after I’ve left the country, and I still speak to this day, because of the time and effort put in to the immersive experience.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Monica (as they say in Spanish)

    Hola, great PC story Billy. I never knew that you were intimidated of anything, especially to speak since you were the go-to guy for fun conversations, you are an excellent storyteller and we all loved you for it. The best part is despite how low you believe your skill level to be or being intimidated is that people are willing to help you, but you need to make an effort, even the slightest one will do. I am glad you overcame all of that to share your whole self with your local family. How is your Spanish, now by the way? It has been awhile now.

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