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Life and Language Learning: One Year Into The Pandemic

I have been thinking about dusting off this blog for months. I have a list on my phone of 20+ blog articles (and youtube videos?) that I am planning to make, but somehow the hours in the day run down and I still haven't accomplished what I'd set out to. ...

To get some inspiration, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and look at my last blogpost Language Learning Goals for 2020 ….. Oh man! It’s funny and a little sad to look back at that article, written in January of 2020. I was so excited for what the year would bring, both for language learning and for life in general. I was eagerly planning on graduating with my Bachelor’s degree, traveling around South America for five weeks, and then breezily moving to Germany for graduate school

Manhattan in April of 2020

I know it’s kind of a cliché at this point, but last year was all about learning how to let go and be flexible. The pandemic hit the US in March and I finished my last two months of university online. There was no graduation ceremony, no goodbyes to my classmates, and perhaps most stressful of all, I was finishing my homework and attending pre-recorded lectures from the passenger seat of an ambulance in between calls, all while working in covid ravaged New York City.

While in New York (and a while before to be honest), I was having horrible back pain. This was previously brushed off by my doctor due to my very physical job, but it was continuously affecting my quality of life. I decided to go in for an MRI after my shift and the biggest shock I had in this entirely shocking year was revealed. I had cancer. CANCER. Not genetic, not expected, at twenty-eight years old.

Just before surgery

As I’m sure you can imagine, this totally rattled my world. There would be no more Germany, there would be no more trip to South America, there would certainly be no more language learning because … what was the point?

After I was diagnosed I sat in an armchair in my living room for about a week. I didn’t speak to anyone, I didn’t do anything, I just thought and worried and processed. Once I had regained enough mental faculties to think about my impending surgery and treatment, I realized that I missed learning languages. I missed the structure, the routine, and the community it provided.

Learning languages had always been a means to an end for me, a way to improve my experience traveling, or a tool to increase my chances of getting into grad school. I now used language learning as a way to find myself again when it felt like the world and my own body had betrayed me.

Day 1 of radiation

So I studied. I was hospitalized during my would-be South American adventure, but as soon as I was out of the hospital I slowly reintroduced languages into my life. I listened to Spanish podcasts when I was struggling to walk down my block, I watched German Netflix when I wasn’t too worn out from radiation, and I spoke to my tutors about all my treatments using vocabulary I never thought I would need (líquido cefalorraquídeo? myxopapillary?)

I didn’t hit any of the big progress goals I set for myself so optimistically in January of 2020 but so what? I learned that language learning is a place of safety and security for me and most importantly, I finally learned that being gentle with myself and flexible with my goals is not only desirable but absolutely necessary.

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