Finding your way out of conversation difficulty in a second language

Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash

“Yes, you have…, ahhh, yes, you can, ahhh” and Roberto was done. He had run out of English.

At this point, Roberto had been studying English with me for just over 6 months.

In today’s class, we were simulating a job interview, where he was interviewing me for a new position. He had done great with the questions, but at the end, he asked me: “Do you have any questions?”

So, as all good interviewees should, I asked one — “Does this position have the possibility for growth or…

Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

“Coach, I don’t think I can run today.”

“What’s wrong?”

I took a deep breath, and mustered up all the courage a 19 year old female athlete can, “I don’t feel good, I’m really tired. I can’t run today.”

“Are you injured?”

“Well, no…”

Coach looked me in the eyes, and without hesitation replied, “Then we need you on the team. You’re running, Alicia.”

It was my sophomore year of college, and I was the current number two runner on the cross country team. The day was our Division Championships for the state of Minnesota. …

Finding Solutions in Second-Language Communication

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

“Alicia, I stood there and asked for the medication. In clear English. But she still looked at me as if I was speaking an alien language.”

“What exactly did you ask for, Alyona?”

“I said ‘Hello, I need loratadine.’ And I know it’s the right name, because I worked in a pharmacy in Russia. And it’s the same name. But I don’t know what else to do.”

She was frustrated, and rightly so. I took a breath and replied,

“You did everything right. I understood you perfectly. I don’t think you were the problem. …

Learning from Failures

Pico de Orizaba, México by Adrián Moreno

300 meters had never felt so far away.

Looking up, I could see the triangular peak that announced how close we were to the top. The blue sky around the summit seemed to whisper “just a little bit further” but it was already 1:30pm. I was climbing with my husband, Adrián, and we had already agreed 2pm was our ascending time limit to make sure we would be able to descend with daylight and beat the inclement weather.

“How much longer do you think we’ll need to reach the summit?” I asked, hopeful.

“At least 2 more hours, maybe more,”…

For Language Students and Teachers

Photo by Hannah Wright on Unsplash

“Do Spanish speakers ever use indirect objects when speaking naturally?” an English teacher posted in a public forum for English teachers in Mexico. Then, he explained, “Because every time I try to teach indirect and direct objects in English, the students seem so confused, like they’ve never heard of them before.”

The responses came quickly — “Yes, of course, Spanish uses indirect and direct objects all the time.” But maybe, most likely, native speakers have no idea when they are using them.

And this is the conundrum when learning a second language — most courses focus on grammar concepts, which…

How adults can increase working knowledge in any language

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

“So I’ve been making flashcards to study new vocabulary words,” Victoria begins, “but I don’t know how to really learn them. Do you have any tips? How do I learn more words in English?”

Her question is common, and one every student asks me at some point in their language learning process. And they all get the same non-sexy, non-exciting response —

Reading is the fastest way to increase your working vocabulary. Both in your first language and in your second language.”

Then comes the common rebuttal.

“But how is it…

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

“Love is action not just words,” is a common phrase I remember hearing growing up. And while there’s truth in that statement, just being nice to others is not all love can fully be.

Just take the Hallmark industry, for example. During the “love holiday” of Valentine’s, they sell over 144 million cards, expressing the words of love many people don’t know how to find on their own.

Of course, a handwritten note inside the card may make it even more personal, but there is still the absence of spoken words when it comes to expressing love.

Meeting my husband…

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

I recently read an article in the BBC that during 2020, the number of native English speakers learning a foreign language for the first time had more than doubled.

Surprised? So was I.

Because, typically, English speakers are known for being monolingual and proud of it. Ever heard any version of the following…

“English is spoken all around the world.”

“Most other people already know English, why would I want to learn another language?”

“I already speak the best language, why do I need to learn anything else?”

“I’m too old to learn another language anyway.”

“English is easy, and…

Sunrise from Iztaccíhuatl climb (photo by Adrián Moreno)

“I can’t keep going. I need to head back,” I told Adrián. I knew those weren’t the words he wanted to hear. “But you can keep going, and we can meet back at the car,” I tried to reassure him as I avoided making eye contact. I didn’t want to see his disappointment.

It was now 8am and we had been climbing the mountain Iztaccíhuatl for just over four hours. Based on our estimates, we had about two hours left to finally summit.

But I couldn’t continue.

Physically, I felt fine. My legs were stronger than ever. My heart rate…

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

“Do you keep a journal in Spanish?” my student Sunkyung asks me. We’ve been meeting consistently for over 2 years to practice and improve her English speaking, and this is the first time she’s asked me about my personal language study routine.

I hesitate, trying to find the right words.

She continues, “I’ve kept a daily journal for 3 years in English, but with everything recently, I’ve stopped. And I don’t know if I want to start back again.” Her forehead furrows in worry.

“Well, when I first started practicing my Spanish, I did journal almost every day for two…

Alicia Ruth Mendez

Born a Midwestern American, now a permanent Mexican resident. Outdoor adventurer, language enthusiast, and lover of classical music.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store