There’s a point when you study a foreign language where you find yourself wondering, could I be considered bilingual? As in, could I put this on my resume? On job applications? (More importantly, can I throw the words “I’m bilingual” into a conversation and thus feel like a total badass?) What is the point where one goes from a learner of Spanish to a Spanish speaker? Of course non-native speakers will always have a learning curve, and of course it will be different for everyone, but where does one draw the line?
If you count every single Spanish class I’ve ever taken, beginning in middle school, I have taken at least 2 years of grade-school Spanish (but probably more because I’ve taken so much Spanish it all blurs together), plus a little in high school, plus seven semesters of college level Spanish. I’ve gone from being barely able to tell time to analyzing Spanish literature and researching historical Spanish events in Spanish. Then, this past summer, I went to Costa Rica for four weeks. Because of this, I went from a halting speaking rate and about a 50% understanding rate to being able to understand 99% of what is said to me in Spanish, and being able to respond fluidly without having to think about what I am going to say.
That being said, though I can speak and conduct business in Spanish if I need to, my grammar isn’t always perfect, especially orally. I confuse tenses and forget vocabulary. Different accents are hard to understand. But on the basic level, I know enough to be able to converse, read, and write in Spanish, if imperfectly, if slowly. I can communicate passably, even well. Does all that make me bilingual? Or must I wait until I have an even higher level of proficiency? Am I putting a higher standard on myself than someone else would, or am I jumping the gun wanting to describe myself this way?
Maybe, in the end, it doesn’t even matter. Maybe all that matters is that I truly enjoy Spanish, and using it makes me happy. Words are my passion, and what is really thrilling is that by learning Spanish I have vastly expanded the amount of people I can talk to, and read, and learn from. I’ve opened myself up to dozens of entirely new cultures and opportunities just by learning one other language. So I guess it doesn’t really matter whether or not I’m technically bilingual. What matters is that I am ever, as my dad would say, expanding my horizons.