As diplomats we are given the chance to learn languages as rare and unknown as Quechua and as common as French. This opportunity is at once a rare luxury and a humbling mind warp. More than two years ago, when I finished studying Arabic and headed off for the Persian Gulf to serve in Bahrain, I thought that most likely I would head to another Arabic or English-designated posting for my second tour, but I fortunate enough to receive Spanish training for my consular assignment to Honduras.
Unlike Arabic, I immediately found Spanish appealing. Arabic was a struggle the whole way through, with deep periods of disappointment, as it seemed I would never be able to communicate with any degree of comfort. It’s true that today, if someone asked me if I speak Arabic, I would be dishonest to reply with anything more than “A very little bit, nothing more.” Spanish, on the other hand, I soon discovered, was all around me in Washington. If I wanted to I could completely immerse myself in the language without feeling distant from where I live here and now. I was very excited about all the Spanish I would be speaking and the people I would be speaking Spanish with in the District. That feeling faded about a month in, when I realized it was not going to be all pupusas and cerveza on the way to learning the mother tongue of Miquel de Cervantes, nor was I going to be speed-reading Don Quixote anytime soon.