Many people ask how I learned Spanish. The short answer is, immersion. But unless you live in a Spanish-speaking country or neighborhood, immersion rarely happens by mistake.
Spanish never really interested me before college. Arabic seemed much more useful on the modern-day missions field, so I jumped into learning Arabic with gusto.... for less than a year. School assignments crowded out my time, and with no consistent accountability, it took a back seat.
Then, a Bible institute teacher mentioned something during a lecture, "if you think God wants you to be a missionary, learn a language; any language." That helped broaden my perspective, and when my nursing program required a language class as a prerequisite, I wasn't as disappointed to see that Arabic wasn't on the list of options. Spanish 101 happened to fit my schedule, so I signed up. The teacher assumed we'd all had some Spanish exposure in high school, but I didn't know the first thing about Spanish. It was a rough start. I cried several times at my desk; utterly frustrated.
Then, something clicked. Then a whole phrase, then an entire sentence! It was elementary, but I was on a roll. I took a part-time job to pay my way for a 3-week study abroad trip to Mexico, where we stayed with a Mexican family and attended Spanish classes 6-8 hours a day. Discovering the value of immersion, that Fall I volunteered to be a pianist in a Spanish ministry my church was just starting.
The Spanish pastor had been a missionary to Bolivia for over 25 years, and he - along with his family - opened the Latino world to me. God worked on my heart, and two years later I surrendered to be a missionary to the Latino people. In 2011 I led my first Spanish-speaking woman to Christ.
My nursing studies continued, and I was encouraged to create a "self-study" class focusing on Spanish interpreting while earning my Bachelor's degree. Through this, I had the privilege of shadowing professional interpreters in Johns Hopkins Hospital, as well as interpreting for a research project in a mobile clinic. In 2014 my nurse manager encouraged me to attend a Qualified Bilingual Staff Training Program, and I finally became certified to interpret for patients in my hospital.
Though I still have much to learn in this beautiful language, it has been a joy to discover the Hispanic world and touch this rich missions field right here in my own backyard. Hasta la proxima vez, Dios les bendiga! (Until next time, God bless!)