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Se dice asi: Rodiiiilla!”

So, I am kind of annoyed with this little kid at this point. It’s the third time he has corrected me saying this word, when to me it sounds perfectly fine. Either way, I say it a couple times more to satisfy him and move on.

So there is 16 year old me, getting corrected by a 5 year old Dominican boy in a batey outside of the town of Barahona. “I am never going to speak Spanish. Even after 3 years of studying, I still have 5 year olds correcting me,” I remember thinking, disappointed with myself that I still was making such common years, even with daily classes at school since I was 13. I still recall sitting there and learning with Rosetta Stone, although thankfully not for long. Because the truth is, group classes are what we need if our goal is to actually speak a language confidently.

We had gone to play baseball, me and a group of Dominican kids, some as young as 3 or 4 up to 12 or 13. Baseball is the national sport of the DR, and at the time, my dream was to play baseball in college. So naturally, when I went, baseball was what we brought, bringing gloves and baseballs and bats to share with the kids as we went around. Off we wandered, with the head missionary’s permission, to an abandoned field on the outskirts of the town and played ball. A Field of Dreams moment, just with a more tropical Dominican flair. We played for what must have been an hour or so, until one of the older boys sent the ball sailing into the trees. With no ball, and it starting to get dark, we headed back to town to go eat.

The Dominican Republic, my first experience using Spanish outside of class and the occasional conversation or two back in Ohio. And boy is their Spanish tough. Even when I went back later, I struggled. But for now, I was happy with my experience. I struggled a bit more with the adults, but the kids I was able to make some headway with. We talked about simple topics, sports, where I was from, where they were from. The basics. And when all else failed, a laugh and a return to a game was always a solution.

But this was where the idea was first planted, that has now become a pillar of what I try to help people understand when I teach. The idea that learning a new language is like starting over. You go back to being 2 years old, linguistically speaking. But for us, as language learners, that is also a blessing in disguise. Because it means that, just like a 2 year old, everything we say is an achievement, and should be celebrated as such. When a baby first says “mama” or “dada,” people almost throw a party to celebrate. And you should as well as you learn. Just like a 2 year old, we go through a process of saying words (maybe walking into a store and asking for 3 things (pan, huevo, tomate maybe) might be something that applies to us more), to short phrases (we add some greetings and can have a short convo about hobbies or sports or upcoming plans).

Relax, and speak as much as you can, even if you sound like a 2 year old or Tarzan. The point being it is part of the process. If you go into it with that mentality, you will be more satisfied with your language journey.

The good news is that we grow up much faster in a second language than in our first. In fact, we can do it quit quickly if we put our minds to it and use the right methods.

It was after this trip that I had a few realizations, outside of don’t be afraid to sound like you are 4. One, I loved Spanish and two, I love languages. Which is not quite the same. The love for Spanish because it has opened doors that I did not know existed. And the love for languages for the people & connections it can allow you to to make with people, by being able to speak their language.

There are tons of quotes about this. Here are some of my favorites:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.

If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ― Nelson Mandela

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” ― Frank Smith

“You live a new life for every language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once.” ― Czech proverb

But you want to know what my favorite is?

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.” ― Amy Chua

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I came back from the Dominican with a renewed passion for learning languages, and ended up going back that year, and to Nicaragua the following 2. Each year noticing progress, talking about more complex ideas, expressing my thoughts with even more detail. It was so cool to see.

I also started to learn other languages at this point, teaching myself German and learning French that year as well. And after a hard semester of Calculus, I decided against studying Engineering and went to study Linguistics, following my passion for languages and communicating with people.

This passion is what led me to learn Swahili my first year there. The desire to meet new people, experience new cultures, visit new worlds. Because that is what a language represents. A new world, and a new way to see your old one.

Although to be fair, I didn’t get much beyond being able to greet people and ask for some things. And that took me months to get to that point, of daily studying. I got to this same point with a week of Arabic study before going to Morocco (we’ll get to how that happened at some point, and how you can do it too!).

For my second year, I decided to take this idea of visiting new worlds more literally, moving abroad to live in Granada, Spain at just 20 years old. There are two door opening moments that have happened to me, moments where I said “There is no going back from here.”

Moving to Spain was the first. And starting this business, where I can help others to learn how to learn a language, was the other.

I knew that there was no going back. The wanderlust had struck, and struck hard. And not just to travel and visit places for a week or two. But the idea to live in a place, experience life at a different rhythm, lose myself amongst streets where I don’t know the language. A romantic thought maybe, but there was no going back.

After my year in Spain, I returned to the States, graduated in my third year with a Linguistics degree and an International Studies degree, and moved to Colorado. To live in the mountains, be a hippie, snowboard everyday and figure out what I wanted to do with life, with this degree in Languages that wasn’t exactly offering up good paying jobs related to Spanish collecting dust in the corner.

So that’s what I did, living there for 2 years and having a blast. I made friends with the local Hispanic community, and tons of friends from all over South America and Costa Rica who would come to work during the winter season. I got way more use out of my language skills than I thought, although not in a professional context like I hoped.

So I take it back.

There were 3 doors. Spain, the business, and moving to Mexico.

Be sure to check out tomorrow's email for my story of living in Mexico, starting my business, and traveling Latin America over the past 3 years. In the meantime, let me know about a moment that changed your life in a positive way.

Talk soon,

Anthony Mullis

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