Short answer: It depends on what you mean by “worth it.”
Freakonomics (one of my podcast favorites) recently did a short show on the merits of learning a foreign language. Most of the foreigners in Spain whom I know would argue that learning a foreign language is indeed quite beneficial. We are always posting articles on the benefits of bilingualism. There are myriad other reasons too: you become smarter, you know your native language better, you stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia, your memory improves, you become more perceptive … In short, the benefits are endless.
Freakonomics talks to Albert Saíz, a Spanish (Catalonian) professor of economics who specializes in immigration. He wrote a paper titled Listening to What the World Says: Bilingualism and Earnings in the United States. Saíz wanted to figure out just how much a person can gain (future earnings) by knowing a foreign language. He talked to 9,000 college grads about how their knowledge of a foreign language had affected their wages. Here’s what he had to say:
In high school and college, speaking Spanish was a ton of fun! I didn’t have “off days,” I didn’t feel bad about my accent, and I never felt self-conscious! I thought I was pretty darn good at Spanish too. (In truth, I wasn’t half bad.)
That all changed when I first set foot in Spain in 2008. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t understand a lot of things. I got nervous when people gave me directions, nodding stupidly, and hoping they wouldn’t notice when I walked off in a direction opposite to the one in which they had told me to go. Vale became my favorite, end-the-conversation-NOW word. Every so often, a Spaniard would compliment my English, but I knew they were lying. They just had to be!
Slowly, through my years in Spain, I grew more confident in my abilities. I learned so many new words, phrases, and ways of speaking. My Spanish family is sometimes delighted when I say things like, ” … que no veas,” as though what I said was, indeed, la leche. There are good days, days when the words flow, and people don’t have to wait for me to spit out the word vitrocerámica (why can’t we just call it a fogón?). These days are when I feel most competent and fluent, the days I like (sometimes even love!) speaking castellano.
Some days I’m really motivated to study Spanish. Other days, not so much. It all depends on the amount of coffee and carbs I’ve had that day. (Hint: more coffee equals better studying, while more carbs equals better napping.)
For my birthday, my friends gave me a book, which is great for language nerds like me who spend their free time reading linguists’ blogs and articles about language change. Yep, that’s me. So obviously I was quite enthused by the gift and the thought that went behind it.
Presenting Kaley’s Favorite Books for Learning Spanish
Las 500 dudas más frecuentes del español is the book I got for my birthday a few weeks ago. Just like we do in English, Spanish-speaking people make mistakes when writing and speaking Spanish. This book is designed to help clear up any debates about the correct usage of the language. I recognize that spoken and colloquial language may not follow these guidelines, but written language needs to adhere to them in order to be fit to print.
Quick, a quiz!
¿Está bien dicho Cuidado, que caes el vino? (For the answer, check out page 232.)
¿Está bien dicho Me miraba de arriba a abajo? (Answer on page 300.)
¿Por qué algunas palabras como azúcar o mar admiten tanto el masculino como el femenino? (Answer on page 194.)
Bicultural and/or international couples (in my case, both) have some habits that can seem odd for an outsider. Most of the time, when Mario and I take a trip, we end up speaking a weird hodgepodge of English and Spanish and Spanglish, which confuses the locals who just want to place us in a little box. (Oh, Americans; or Oh, Spaniards.) But no, we’re not so easily categorized or identified.
Mix up traditions.
I wear my wedding ring (alianza) on my right hand because I didn’t have the traditional engagement ring and wedding ring match set. I wanted everyone who saw me, in Spain and in the US, to know I was taken, so I figured I’d wear one ring on each finger. Problem solved. Mario, on the other hand (literally), wears his on the other hand, his left. Why? It’s more comfortable. So we mix up traditions. So what?
We also chose to say our vows both in English and in Spanish, because those words in our native languages were and are really important to us.
Oh yeah, and we had two weddings. We’ve decided we could have one every year. There are lots of states, after all.