Unlike most students in my Spanish class, I started my language journey later than normal; transferring from a large public school that did not have any language programs to Episcopal in the sixth grade, I had no prior experience with the language. Presently, I am an AP Spanish Language and Culture student, who is embracing content equivalent to that of a collegiate level, a level which I plan to pursue further with my aspirations to major in Spanish in college. Though, the Spanish that I know as of now reflects elements of photography; I began, years ago, looking at the language through only one lens - restricting my view on Spanish to being solely a form of communication. Therefore, I saw it as immensely one-sided: the picture I saw through my one lens was blurry - without the proper tools and appreciation for Spanish that I would develop later on, I couldn’t focus in on what would make Spanish more than just a language for me.
Throughout middle school at Episcopal I fulfilled my language requirements, refining my “focusing” skills with each class. I won’t sugarcoat my experiences and say that I discovered a newfound love for the language in these years, but it opened my eyes - slightly; while I went through the motions learning the language, widening my view on Spanish, truly, I was not subject to my own “aha” moment with the language until my junior year. Meanwhile, towards the end of my sophomore year it was at this time that I had to decide whether or not I was going to continue down the language-track. It was no longer required, so I could decide whether I wanted to continue with Spanish or take another class in a different discipline. Ultimately, my decision to continue Spanish was heavily influenced by my friends who advised me that taking Spanish all four years of high school showed commitment and academic rigor on my college applications.
Though their arguments resonated with my own aspirations of strengthening my resumé, I can confidently say that my commitment is no longer about the college credit, transcript, or GPA boost. The prolonged “aha” moment, in my case, that I experienced junior year wasn’t because I suddenly decided to join a Spanish club outside of school or sign up for an exchange program; it came from examining the growth that I was a witness to in my junior year of Spanish; I can now deliver a fifteen minute presentation completely in Spanish about the social constructs in the Dominican Republic; I can write an essay in Spanish contrasting the way Americans consume media versus the restricted way citizens in other Hispanic Countries do; I can fully comprehend Spanish podcasts that express the sentiments about changes in the Puerto Rican regime; I can do more than solely examine what is the visible culture of Spanish countries.
Frequently, and even now, I take time to reflect on how my understanding of Spanish has expanded dramatically: even a couple of months ago, I still was out of touch with the language. I had all of the proper pieces - grammar, vocabulary, structure, and so on - but I did not realize that the pieces would eventually fit together to comprise a clearer and more complete snapshot of Spanish beyond the blurry image.
Alongside the support of my peers in class, I have been able to see the Spanish world not only with more clarity, but through several different lenses: permitting me to put the pieces together. AP Spanish Language and Culture stands for more than just a class to teach its students how to speak fluent Spanish. Spanish is not memorizing conjugations; Spanish is not learning different verbs; Spanish is not just writing nor is it speaking. Spanish is an all-access pass that brings its members to not solely the aspects of Spanish cultures that can be seen, but what exists behind those features. Looking at the Spanish world through this new perspective, cultural attributes act as vehicles to something more; food in México is no longer just what people eat but a form of communication where words cannot suffice; music like merengue in the Dominican Republic is no longer just musical notes strung together but a way to connect with the Dominican people and the culture’s roots; Spanish is no longer just a language but a passage to a whole new world.
To those who are just beginning their language journey and to those who are far down their own paths, I remind you to take time to appreciate what foreign languages can offer. Learning Spanish is often times frustrating and forces you to be vulnerable: you will mess up the preterite tense and you will misinterpret a “fact” you find on a Wiki page about a Latin country you were confident about in front of your entire class. These mistakes are a part of your own language journey; it is through these mistakes that you learn how to refine your own focusing skills, and where your vulnerable mind is able to grasp onto a snapshot of all that Spanish can be.
Mason LaFerney is a junior in his sixth year at Episcopal. He actively partakes in Episcopal's community as President of the National Honors Spanish Society, a lead editor on the yearbook staff and also a Fellow in the Writing Center program. Alongside these activities, outside of school Mason also runs his own photography business, Mason LaFerney Photography (masonlaferneyphotography.com).