Listening to the gentle murmurs of voices in the Madrid train station, I approached the counter of the bar. Nervously, I reached for my wallet to take out cash to pay the man. I asked in Spanish, “Can I have one bottle of water please?”. Amazingly, I understood the man’s response completely. I started to converse with him. Handing him the banknote, I enquired about the heat the country faces, and talked about the upcoming Champions League final. The man seemed amazed that this foreign looking man was able to converse with him, and quite frankly, I was amazed at myself. Sure, I had studied Spanish in both primary and secondary school, but my use of it outside of the classroom was limited at best. I was coming out of my shell.
Adjusting to speaking a foreign language for a majority of time is certainly a difficult task, and it took me a while to properly adjust and immerse myself. I was nervous and fearful that I would speak incorrectly or say a word which I don't mean. However, once I was able to get over that fear, I realized something very important: that it does not matter.
By this, I do not mean that learning a language is a fruitless task. In fact, it is entirely righteous and self-satisfying. What I mean by that statement is that you should not be afraid to speak incorrectly. Just think back to how many times you have spoken grammatically or phonetically incorrect in your native language. I can personally count several times a day in which I spoke improper English. It is just a fact of life that language is entirely interpretive, and is not always spoken as intended. The truth is that if you speak the correct words, most people will understand you.
Additionally, you must believe that what you speak is correct. Have the confidence to speak in the language and to directly address people you wish to interact with. People appreciate when you try and learn their language, and this has so far been my experience in Spain. I might not have spoken in entirely perfect Spanish to the bartender I mentioned earlier, but I was able to be confident and believe in what I was saying. Then, true to form, he appreciated what I was doing and made it easier for me to understand him. Learning a new language is not just about grammar and vocabulary, but confidence. You will never be able to speak a language if you do not believe you can speak it to others.