I took a communication class in college. I needed extra credits to become a CPA so I took a class I expected to be a bit easier. It was easier, but I learned that communication is not as easy as it appears, even when you are speaking the same language.
Flashback to my first day on the job (in Cordoba) and I realized just how difficult it can be to communicate. I had not spoke Spanish in years, let alone studied. I was thrown into a situation where people just expected you to understand what they were saying. In reality, I understood about 40% and had to use context, ask for it to be repeated, or even write it at one point.
Google translate became my best friend. I wanted to cry the first day. It is very humbling to be trying your absolute hardest only to completely misinterpret what was said and have to have someone save you or respond for you. I felt like a child. I still feel a bit like a child.
But it has gotten easier, and I think a bit more of my Spanish is coming back. I am still awful at conjugating verbs and many times will just say multiple versions hoping the person will correct me. I also tend to use the masculine for feminine words or vice versa. It is hard for me to comprehend how wrong that is when there isn’t an equivalent in English.
Even though learning Spanish is one of the hardest things I’ve done (yes, for me harder than the CPA exam), there is an immense sense of satisfaction when you complete a conversation. Or when you effectively get your point across. Especially when you are sitting with a group of people, who all seem to speak more languages than you, and they switch between English and Spanish and you can follow, it is one of the most enjoyable experiences I know.
I think everyone should be required to live or work where their mother tongue is not the language. In the U.S., I have heard people become frustrated when a foreigner cannot communicate in English. I think these same people would have different opinions if they had ever been in a situation like that. The journey to becoming bilingual may not be easy or comfortable, but it is rewarding.