If I’d Only Known: Learn A Second Language & Learn It Well

Bilingual story time at Banning Public Library (CA), led by Candee Torrez

If there’s one thing I regret about my education, it’s that I didn’t master a second language. I took Spanish classes throughout middle and high school but stopped after the required one semester in college. To be fair, there were a lot of other classes competing for my time and I had quite a bit to fit into just four years. But now that I’m a librarian I deeply regret that I never took my Spanish beyond an intermediate level.

Part of my regret is personal. I would like to be able to read Spanish literature in its original language. Speaking Spanish fluently would ease travel. And, yes, it would just be cool. But a great deal of regret is tied to my professional ambitions. With the rapidly growing Spanish speaking population in the United States, there is a great demand for librarians who can speak the language to assist new immigrants, curate Spanish language materials, and lead workshops.* You see the “preference” over and over again in job announcements.

Which leads me to today’s advice for any aspiring librarians out there: Learn a second language. Learn it well. You’ll be a valuable asset to our communities and able to connect to other cultures more easily. You’ll be in demand professionally. Listen to your Tante Julie. She lived to regret quitting her lessons.

But, obviously, it isn’t exactly over for me. Maybe my brain cells aren’t as flexible as they used to be and maybe I’m a little frightened but I can still do this. I can still learn to speak Spanish well. Now it’s just up to me to figure out how.

Some Things I Plan To Do:

  • Read bilingual picture books and poetry collections. I’ve had some success with this in the past and I need to stick with it. Usually the vocabulary is relatively simple and it helps me pick up new words. It makes me feel smart when I can understand things on my own but I can always “cheat” and look at the English translation.
  • Read Spanish newspapers and watch Spanish movies and television without subtitles. I’ve heard people say that the “sink or swim” approach can help you learn a language.
  • Join a class. (This is where I’m currently stuck. I guess I could enroll in a class at UM but I’d like one for adults like me. Maybe at the community college?) A big barrier to this: finding the time. I’m really busy.
  • Long term goal: Travel in Spanish speaking countries, which will force me to speak the language.

And that’s what I have so far. Do you have any advice?


* Of course this is also relevant for Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, etc.



Filed under Professional Practice

2 responses to “If I’d Only Known: Learn A Second Language & Learn It Well

  1. Dawn

    Listening to music in another language helps me, as well as those other steps you mention. Ballads tend to be slower than speaking, and can help with recognition.

  2. Our library has a foreign language database – Powerspeak. See if your local library subscribes to any kind of language learning software, or maybe has Rosetta stone to check out. I did learn languages all the way from elementary to graduate school, but unfortunately I didn’t learn any useful ones and I switched so often I never became really fluent in anything but Swedish – which I’m now losing because I haven’t had anyone to speak with for 3 years. I used my German and Swedish as a cataloguer, and very occasionally Greek and I’ve found that French is close enough to Spanish to help out in the communication process, but I’ve never needed the Hebrew. Ah well. Swedish sure was fun to learn though (-:)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s