I’ve now spent the past six months in Mexico and while learning Spanish has been one of my top priorities, unfortunately it has taken a back seat to my number one priority – completing several new internet projects that I’ve had planned for a while.
Since the completion of these projects requires me to spend a good deal of time in front of my laptop as well as communicate in English all day long in the form of emails and Skype calls, I haven’t exactly become as fluent in Spanish as I’d hoped for.
However, progress has most certainly been made. The sheer fact that I’m now able to get my point across in Spanish, or at least a basic outline of my point, during almost all of my every day interactions without too much difficulty, is a huge improvement from only being able to ask how much an apple costs a few months ago.
I still need to tell people, a lot of people, ok, the majority of people, to slow down when speaking to me, but in the end, I’m typically fairly confident that I’ve understood the gist of what the other person has said. And if not, I’ve perfected the fake nod that makes it seem like I’ve understood everything, thus avoiding the need for any further discussion on the matter.
So overall, to go from a muttering buffoon to a semi-competent speaker of a foreign language in six months is an accomplishment that for me, is significant enough to leave me wondering what on earth I did to achieve this goal.
SIX MONTHS OF NOTHING
This is the interesting part. When I look back over my time here, from the very day I crossed the border into Mexico until I finished off the quesadilla I just stuffed into my mouth a few seconds ago (not the best mindfulness practice – sorry Nate!), I realize that my Spanish has improved by doing what seems like…nothing…at all. Absolutamente nada!
I haven’t used any methods or techniques that one normally associates with learning languages. For example, I haven’t taken any classes, studied any books or online language learning courses, I haven’t listened to Spanish lessons while sleeping or kept a notebook of new words and grammar rules. In fact, I haven’t written a single thing I’ve learned down on paper and it would be a flat out lie to state that I’ve opened my Spanish/English dictionary more than four times.
All I did was move to Mexico.
And while I obviously could have made further progress by using even one of the above methods, I can’t really complain given that I’m now able to speak a decent amount of Spanish without having put in much of an effort at all.
Instead of spending hours studying, I simply went out to eat and was therefore forced to learn the items on the menu. I took day trips and was forced to struggle through asking for directions. When it was time to negotiate my rent, tell my landlord about an infestation of scorpions or kindly request the construction workers outside my building to quiet down because it was 6:30am and some of us enjoy sleeping past sunrise, I had to do so in Spanish.
Slowly, my brain pieced together the specks of Spanish it learned each day and now, six months later, somehow my brain is able to communicate in complete sentences and understand what others are saying to me.
I literally learned Spanish by doing nothing other than deciding to live in a Spanish-speaking country. The rest took care of itself.
ALL IT TAKES IS ONE STEP FORWARD
Before I arrived in Mexico, I admittedly spent weeks trying to determine how best to learn the language. I researched reliable language schools throughout the country, I considered purchasing Rosetta Stone or Spanish for Dummies. I looked for ways to find a suitable tutor and and to determine which method of language learning most suited my needs. Yet during all of the time I spent thinking about how to learn, I naturally didn’t make any progress at all in actually learning.
Only by taking a physical step (moving to Mexico) did the achievement of my goal become a real possibility. And it didn’t even matter that I had no steps planned beyond that first one.
I think we often spend too much time over-analyzing, complicating our decisions, worrying needlessly, trying to research and craft such precise and executable plans. But in reality, progress cannot be made without taking action. Without action, we will continue to wonder why our goals in life are going un-achieved despite spending so much time thinking about them.
As soon as I realized that I’ve been learning Spanish with such little effort, I immediately began taking action towards several other other goals I’ve set for myself. And I honestly encourage everyone to do the same, no matter how small that first step may be.
Perhaps it requires sending an email, making a phone call, shopping around for airfares, deciding on a title for that book you want to write, deciding what product to sell online, updating your resume or signing up for that course you’ve always wanted to attend.
Whatever it is, it’s not going to get accomplished by thinking about it alone.
You’ve got to move your feet forward. You’ve got to do something, even if that something seems like nothing.
What about you? Do you spend time thinking about achieving a goal without taking any actual steps?