In 2014, having spent six years studying and practicing Spanish, I found myself missing something. I felt I had done all this work and I had taught myself a second language, but I wasn't really using it. Sure, I could order a drink in a Mexican bar, but I wanted more.
Here’s the story of what I did to search for that missing something… and what I found at the end of that journey. Yes, I ended up getting married because of my language learning. And it all begins with Fluent in 3 Months…
How My Language Learning Journey Began with Benny and Fi3M
My name's James and I've been a part of Benny's language journey since back in 2010 when I first came across Fluent In 3 Months. Back then it was still in its infancy.
Two years earlier, in 2008, I had decided to take on the challenge of becoming fluent in Spanish. I worked at a job where roughly 50% of the employees spoke Spanish and I often felt there was an unfair divide between the existing cultures. While I knew enough Spanish to communicate with the Spanish speaking employees, I wanted to bridge the gap between them and the English speaking staff. I made the employees a promise that I would work to become fluent in Spanish. Ironically, I had given myself a three month time frame knowing nothing of Benny and his goals at the time.
Well, the three months came and went, and while I was not quite at the level of fluency I had hoped for, the gains I had made inspired me to continue. I had begun living my life immersed in as much Spanish as I possibly could while still living in the United States. I watched TV in Spanish, I read books in Spanish, and I sought out every Spanish learning opportunity on the internet I could find. My staff laughed at me when they learned I was watching Telenovelas from Mexico or reading Harry Potter in Spanish, but little by little I started feeling more comfortable with the language.
Fluent in 3 Months Became My Language Learning Community
To get support for my language learning, and to have my questions answered, I have posted in the Fluent In 3 Months forum quite a few times over the years and I tend to visit the pages daily, even if I don't add anything. I have asked questions and I have given advice. I have looked for inspiration as well as offered it to others. I found I truly enjoyed meeting other language learners, even if Spanish wasn't their target language.
Being a part of a community of language learners has helped me immensely and I often feel I owe Benny a debt of gratitude for keeping me inspired to carry on with my goals. I'm sure like many others, I've had goals come and go, and certainly there have been moments in which I felt like giving up, but thanks to Benny and his team at Fluent In 3 Months, I'm still plugging along.
One of Benny’s most useful piece of advice that I have followed and always encouraged others to participate in is an online blog, written in your target language. I started my own blog, Tres Meses Hasta Exito in 2010 and I am still blogging there today. It’s mainly a place for me to practice writing in Spanish, but it also often allows me a venue to share my language learning frustrations when I just need to blow off a little steam.
In addition to language blogging, during my time in the Fluent In 3 Months community, I have been inspired to start learning additional languages.
My Attempts at Learning Other Languages
I don’t know if it was overconfidence or simply the fact I was a little jealous of all the other members here on Fi3M who seemingly could take on language after language without hesitation, but in July of 2011 I got up the nerve to start learning Italian. I was eager and a little amazed at how quickly I was able to pick up the vocabulary. It probably had a lot to do with its similarities to Spanish, but I found myself flying along. I developed a learning schedule to allow me to study both Spanish and Italian and I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having. So much fun in fact, I decided to truly live life to the fullest and in November of 2011 I started learning French. OK, I should mention, I was nowhere near fluency in Italian when I decided I was going to start on French, but I could wait no longer.
I was now spending my days reading in Spanish, cooking in Italian (spaghetti and meatballs is Italian, no?) and watching the news in French. While I certainly didn’t understand it all, I was thrilled when I did understand what they were talking about. I suppose I could have gone on forever like this, but sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. It was about the time that I bought my first book on Portuguese that I had a bit of an awakening. While I thought it would be great to speak four, five, even six languages, I couldn’t do it all at once. I would have loved to devote my life to learning languages, but it just wasn’t realistic at the time. I loved Spanish too much to give it up, and since I actually could use Spanish on a daily basis, I decided I would focus all my energy on learning Spanish and I would put the other languages aside, at least for the time being. I would leave the other languages for later in life.
Then the Time Came When I Felt I Needed More from Language Learning
As I mentioned in the introduction, in 2014, having spent six years studying and practicing Spanish, I found myself missing something. I felt I had done all this work and I had taught myself a second language, but I wasn't really using it. Sure, I could order a drink in a Mexican bar, but I wanted more. I wanted to prove to myself that all that work was worthwhile.
I decided what better way to do this than take a trip to a Spanish speaking country. Once again, I have Benny to thank for the inspiration. It was around this time that I saw a video between Benny, Scott Young, and Vat Jaiswal where they talked about their project of living a year without English. I was sold. I would take a trip to Spain and spend a month (no, not a whole year) without speaking English. I had never left the country before and I had never traveled alone, so this was going to be a huge step out of my comfort zone. I announced my plans on the Fi3M Forums, and received a really encouraging reply.
I was still terrified, but in May of 2015, I stepped off the plane in Madrid and spent the entire month on my own, doing my best to not speak any English.
Here’s a photo of the area of Madrid where I stayed:
And The Story Doesn’t End There…
Well, the goal of not using any English was only moderately successful, but for me, it helped me overcome so many other obstacles in my life. You see, the story doesn't end there.
Another piece of advice I took away from Fi3M was the idea of finding a language exchange partner. While staying in Madrid, trying to live my month without English, I found myself home alone one evening feeling a little disappointed that I had not been more successful in my attempts to interact with the Spanish community. Not willing to surrender so easily, I logged onto a language exchange site and sought out someone to at least message with in Spanish. While I don’t recall who made the initial contact, I found myself messaging a Spanish woman who lived and worked just outside Madrid. Her English was more or less equivalent to my Spanish and we found ourselves having a very smooth conversation, unlike the many awkward language exchanges I had had in the past. We enjoyed each other’s company so much we continued messaging throughout the week until we finally agreed to meet for coffee. It was the only day she and I spent together during my stay in Madrid, but it was easily the best day spent on my vacation. I was so proud of myself for speaking nearly entirely in Spanish with her and I would like to add that not a day has passed since our first chat that we have not spoken to one another.
I had to return to the United States at the end of May, 2015, but in February of 2016 I returned to Spain, this time to live with the woman who would months later become my wife. We now have a one year old daughter together and intend on raising her bilingual.
I don't know that I would go so far as to say Benny is responsible for the life I have now, but I will say that language learning and the language learning community is what got me to where I am today. Were it not for my desire to learn a second language who knows where I would be today? For me, the story is just beginning, but I thought I would take a few minutes to share the first few chapters with you.