As a resident of North American, and yes, as a U.S. citizen, I was somewhat ashamed that I never learned Spanish. During my youth, I took the standard Spanish class just to graduate from my small town Pennsylvania high school. I am pretty sure I got a “B” and exactly zero people beyond my teacher, presumably, cared about my grade. I didn’t really use any Spanish since that time. Despite it becoming more and more prevalent in our culture, it did not seem important as I traveled a lot overseas and the places I traveled didn’t require Spanish.
Honestly, it seemed to me that doggedly pursuing Spanish would make me seem a little smug about my intellectual capabilities, especially for a Caucasian with no Spanish family ties.
However, I missed the point of learning languages, especially those found in my home nation. It is not really to impress yourself or others, although that can be an effect. It is to reach across cultural boundaries and tap into shared humanity. It feels good to be kind, friendly and meet people on their terms. It is to communicate with people and any pride you might feel from your achievements is going to get in the way of that pure pursuit.
A lot has changed since my youth. The United States now has the most Spanish speakers in the world, after Mexico. Spanish is the most studied foreign language in the U.S. with roughly six million students. There is always going to be some tension as to whether Spanish could contest with English as an unofficial language of the U.S. However, by and large, if you want to be a real U.S. citizen it seems like having some knowledge, even passive, of Spanish is a requirement. After all, there are so many loanwords from Spanish to English to make all of us a little bit fluent in Spanish.
Spanish is more similar to English than other languages. Therefore, it is commonly accepted that it could take as few as 480 hours of study to gain proficiency. However, I always want to know what exactly proficiency is. I think it is important to have a specific test or event that lets you know that you have achieved proficiency or fluency.
Please join me this year as I embark on my Spanish adventure. The DELE is administered by the Cervantes Institute and measures Spanish proficiency. My goal is to score a B2 on the DELE no later than November 2019. B2 is usually considered sufficient for entry into a Spanish university and as much as I like to think a drive for C1 or C2 would be brave, I have some experience with those levels of fluency in other languages. It would be extremely difficult.