The Exhaustion of Learning a New Language

Since arriving to Costa Rica three weeks ago, I can safely say that each night I am in bed AND asleep by 9:00 pm.

If you know me personally, I am an early sleeper by nature and an early riser, so going to bed this early would make sense.

However, since arriving to Costa Rica, I have a different form of exhaustion: mental exhaustion. Unless you have learned a second language through the immersive experience of studying abroad, I am not sure if you would be able to understand the exhaustion I am describing because I myself am new to this type of “tired” even though I have studied abroad two other times.

From the moment I eat breakfast at 7:15 am, my brain has to concentrate REALLY hard. I intently listen to my host mother talk while I eat my breakfast and respond when necessary. Three weeks into being in Costa Rica, I still have to mentally translate what is being said to me in English and then translate my response from English to Spanish in my head. The amount of concentration and thought this requires is absolutely crazy!

After breakfast, I then head to school to attend my class. For the next three hours, I am speaking in Spanish, trying to understand my Spanish professor, and participate in the activities. To be honest, most of the time I say “estoy confundida” or “I am confused” because I have a tough time understanding his accent.

By the time class concludes at 11:00 am, my brain is fried. Some days more so than others. Depending on the day, I either have a cultural activity in the afternoon, a second class at 2:00 pm, intercambio in the evening, or head home for the day. On the days where I have a cultural activity, my concentration continues throughout the afternoon as I intently listen to instructions/information.

When dinner time roles around at 7:00 pm, I eat with my host family and get around for bed soon afterwards. As the clock strikes 8:30 pm, my eyelids are ready to go to bed.

Being in Costa Rica and improving my Spanish skills truly has been an eye-opener for me. It sheds light on what international students at my university go through when they first arrive to the states. It sheds light on what immigrants and refugees go through as they learn to acclimate to a new culture and language without preparation. It sheds light on what my younger brother and younger sister both went through when they studied abroad in Sweden and Peru respectively.

I truly have a newfound perspective on those who learn new language whether through choice or as a means of survival. You are unbelievably brave in my eyes.

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The next time you happen to hear an accent or someone struggling to convey what they are wanting/needing/saying, I hope you decide to help that person out. We all have to start somewhere when learning a new language or culture. Maybe you will end up with a new friend or walk away with something you never knew before. Just know that the accented ones are tired and trying their best even if they have a gringa accent when speaking Spanish.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

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