Apraxia & Foreign Languages

How does one, with Apraxia or its reminiscent effects, learn a foreign language?

Everyone has their own opinions and experiences with this. Some despise forcing kids to learn a language that they lack interest in. Some hate that their child already struggles with English, why would we dump ANOTHER language on them?

This is a controversy I hope to address, at least by sharing my personal journey with it. Before though, let me disclose that my experience is my own. It is not indicative that it can and will be the same for every individual with Apraxia.

I know for a fact that learning a foreign language can be a struggle for anyone, with or without a speech disorder.

But I also believe that it is a subject that is possible, but albeit difficult, to learn.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, outdoor and water
Fun Photo: Andalucia, Spain
Now, about my adventures in learning a different language.

I am bilingual; fluent in English and Spanish. I've studied Spanish for 8 years in my education, throughout High School and I majored in it at Emory University. I lived in Spain for about 4 months-only speaking Spanish, and I still use the language today whether conversationally with co-workers, reading Spanish news, listening to Spanish music, and translating professionally.

I love Spanish.

I started my Spanish studies in Ninth Grade, as a freshman in High School. In California, it's required to take 3-4 years of a foreign language. Thus, I took a foreign language for my entire High School career. Little did I know though that I would actually WANT to take a foreign language.

I was only 65% intelligible per my speech therapy reports at this time.

My parents, terrified about me in a Spanish class, met with my Freshman Spanish Teacher, named Senor Cohen, and discussed their concerns with my 'accent,' Apraxia, and my potential success in a Spanish class.

Cohen reassured my parents that there were some presentations, but mainly our grades depended on our understanding of the language. Understanding vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and - if you know Spanish- our verb conjugations. Basically, my grade was what I knew and my delivery on homework assignments and exams. This occurred in every single Spanish class outside of Cohen's, which was beneficial.

Cohen was your typical "White Guy," but he KNEW Spanish. If you saw him, you wouldn't believe it either. He was also a difficult teacher too, nothing in his class came easy and it moved fast. Day 2 of Spanish, we presented the Spanish alphabet from memory to the class. (Now, on a side note, the Spanish Alphabet has two types of 'R's' and I already struggled with the only R in English!)

He had a reputation; many did not hold him as high of a regard.  It took me a while to understand why on earth such a difficult subject taught by a difficult teacher would bring me any enjoyment. To the point I'd study it for another 8 years.

The reason why was simple: He was the last person you'd think knew the Spanish Language.

That was the motivator.

I was also the last person you'd think could learn Spanish. I'm white PLUS I have a speech disorder inhibiting my English.

That wanted me to master Spanish even more, no one would expect me to. I didn't even expect to!

Now, I had my fair share of failures in Spanish, trust me. But overall I'd say it was one of my strongest subjects in school and I enjoyed learning it.

The reasons why I found success in Spanish frankly has nothing to do with my speech, nor it's severity. I relied on other strengths and the Spanish class environment to overcome anything my speech may have hindered. Plus, in an odd twist of events, my intelligibility in Spanish is better than English due to linguistic rules and slightly different tongue placement (Who would have thought, right?).

The strengths that helped me learn a foreign language are:

1. My Memory
I have a solid memory, practically photographic and honestly it's strange. During an exam, I could close my eyes, flip to a mental snapshot of the vocabulary page, and read it to find the answer. Same with grammar. I would have these mental snapshots of the related pages and be able to regurgitate that information. Of course, this became easier as I took more and more Spanish classes where it became a second hand nature. In the beginning though, I would memorize, memorize, and memorize.

2. Same Playing Field

All of the students were learning the same, new language. It was the first time we were all equals; they weren't any more intelligible than I was. We all were learning how to speak and how to write. It was a comfort to no longer be 'behind' the others.

Even those that were natural Spanish speakers needed help too, especially with formal writing and grammatical rules. I would help with the formalities of the Spanish language, these grammatical rules, and they would help me pronounce Spanish words.

Same playing field, but we all exchanged our different strengths.

3. I had fun

Learning Spanish was fun. I am not sure how else to put it. The pronunciation of "R's" in Spanish was easier for me to say, since your tongue is more horizontal-you do not pull it all the way back as you do in English. So, yes, I can roll my R's in Spanish but I cannot say them in English. I also find Spanish easier than English. There's also less spelling and grammatical rules.

4. My brain "gets it" and I cannot explain why...

I hate this reasoning, but I'm sure you will understand. Some easily understand Science and Math fields, whereas others comprehend more Liberal Arts subjects. I, for one, am a Liberal Arts person. I understand and enjoy English, Literature, Spanish, and the 'soft sciences.' However, I also know that my Science and Math-inclined colleagues struggle tremendously with languages. My sister, for instance, naturally understands Science and Math, but Spanish was the bane of her existence.

Both of us make the joke to one another (me for Math and her for Spanish),"Why don't you just get it!" Well, I truly wish I could explain why, but it just seems to be.

Languages are difficult to learn with or without Apraxia. Apraxia just adds an extra curve-ball sure, no doubt about that. But, it's vital to distinguish whether or not our comprehension-especially of a foreign language-is Apraxia-related or not. Recall, Apraxia doesn't inhibit a child's ability of understanding English, but it does inhibit how they verbally communicate in English. Perhaps there are other factors inhibiting the comprehension of a foreign language, perhaps outside of Apraxia?

Who knows...

But I do know that my Apraxia Journey led me to a love of language, English and Spanish.

More importantly though, I learned language is more than orally spoken words. 

It's an underrated art form; I know cheesy, but it's this beautiful combination of sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, tone, and culture. All put together to communicate our ideas and opinions.

After being nonverbal for 7-8 years, today I enjoy sharing my thoughts in English and Spanish.