Learning is the one part of life that makes us truly understand the strength of always taking that next step. Learning a second language is a challenge for the majority of the population. Like math, if you are not prone to that kind of thinking, it hurts. For most of us that lived through public school education in the past, mistakes equal ridicule or shame and struggling to learn meant we were not cut out for it. Both these premises are erroneous and dangerous.

Learning anything takes time and dedication. Learning and living in a foreign country takes courage, you are already pretty damn awesome when you make that first step; the day you decide to learn the language and engage with the people of Costa Rica. If you were to mix this up with laughter and good humor, you become a hero to the local people. Your attempt to fumble through and pantomime your needs instead of assaulting them with your native tongue, is very well received and welcome. This point is absolutely crucial, especially in the current sociopolitical atmosphere. People here do not dislike foreigners, they dislike rude people who are not interested in the people and who are here only for the view. Don’t be that dude, be the fool that laughs their way through each interaction until you start getting it.

Now let’s break down the levels of learning:

Step 1: The Fool – The first level one speaks pidgin language, which means no worries about conjugation or grammar. You are in the toddler level, you sound silly and this level is all about attitude. Embrace it and learning will happen much faster and you will find many, many locals who will be very loving to you at this stage. Mantra: I can do this, everyone loves me all the more,
Step 2: The Sage – This is the phase where you start really learning the language. You can take a course, translate the language, watch shows in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. You are intentionally collecting knowledge and trying it out. You learn a new set of words and you go out there and attempt to use them correctly. You should be spending a minimum of 20 minutes a day engaging in Spanish and talking to the gardener or cleaning help counts! Mantra: I get better at this every day.
Step 3: The Novice – You are speaking; going to the store is no longer too big of a deal, all the clerks know you by now anyway. You are formulating sentences and by George you’re throwing in conjugated words, but then a native speaker engages with you and you go right back to step one. Your saturation level hits and the world sounds like gibberish. This is an important and very positive sign. Each time this happens and you collect yourself and try again, your brain is reconstructing and changing to become a true bilingual person. This is a hard level to break through. The people who do; create real connections with locals, take time at home to read books, watch movies and sing in Spanish. Spanish becomes part of who they are now. Mantra: Say what you can say.
Step 4: Bilingual – This is the moment you begin to think, dream and spend a better part of your life in Spanish. You are fluid between the two language and you finally understand the slang and tone in order to truly engage with natives. You still get confused when a group of natives from one country talk to each other but you have come to terms with the fact that this is a part of life that is unavoidable and it doesn’t bother you. You just expand your vocabulary just in case you meet someone else from there. You also know it happens to the natives themselves, they are just as clueless when confronted with a Spanish from a neighboring country. Mantra: It’s all good, Pura Vida.
This process can take a year or many, depending on your attitude, sense of humor and gumption. The more you allow Pura Vida into your life, the easier and easier it gets. More importantly, there is nothing kinder you can do for you brain than exercise it. Learning language or math is like yoga for your brain, it stretches and strengthens your mind and helps you avoid any number of neurological disorders. Even if you think you are not good at it, you will improve if you keep trying and you will enrich your life.

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