by Elizabeth Kenneally
Something I loved about playing violin was erratic and surprising improvement. I would seem to plateau for weeks, even months, working hard but without apparent payoff. My violin teacher would say “have you even touched the violin this week?” in a lesson for which I had practiced two or more hours a day. Then suddenly I would be playing one day and everything would seem easier. The shifts all landed, my tempo was even, my vibrato controlled. Those days made it all worth it. When my teacher would say “I can tell you’ve been practicing.” Because with hard work comes reward. It eventually pays off.
All of a sudden, Spanish stuck. Subjunctive rolled off my tongue without me conjugating or practicing beforehand. I would have real conversations without people slowing down or simplifying their words. I could understand jokes, make jokes of my own, and pick up on the passive aggressive tension in my office. People I talked to for the first time in a while all commented on how much I’d improved. I’m not fluent, I might never actually have a passable accent, and some conversations still leave me wondering if I have functioning ears or even a functioning brain, but I have improved so much. I can understand kids when they talk, understand nearly every word in office meetings, actually talk in those office meetings, understand my host mom on the phone, and talk to my brother’s friends about TV shows without once having to say “mande?” or “no entiendo.” Taxi drivers understand the address I tell them the first time, and sometimes people don’t immediately ask where I’m from in conversation. And it’s really cool. It’s really cool to see marked improvement in something I have struggled with for so long, something I sort of gave up hope on improving.