It turns out that my Spanish is wretched. Ok, I knew it wasn’t great, but I truly have been studying with a few different programs at home, and oh my — you wouldn’t know it to listen to me in a conversation. This morning, the lamp in my room crashed to the floor, shattering the light bulb. This put me in need of a new light bulb, a broom, and a dustpan. The conversation I had went something like this….
me – “Good morning, how are you?”
Ella – “Good morning! Very well, and you?”
me – “Very well…….I need…” here, I mime sweeping with a broom.
Ella – smiles, says something nice — I really have no idea.
me – “The light in my room” More miming here, where I act out the light crashing to the floor.
Ella – “Ah, I see”
She points me to the dustpan – I’ve found the broom by this point, and I commence in sweeping up my small pile of glass.
At this point, my conversations are a mixture of the 200 or so words that I know and charades, with a few English words thrown in for good measure. I’m eternally grateful for the patience everybody has with me. Often, locals will sit down and engage me in slow conversation. This means they may repeat themselves three or four times before I catch on, and then again as I try to learn a new word that’s come up in the course of conversation.
At first, I found the whole process both frustrating and daunting. Frustrating because I feel that all my studying was for naught, the Spanish I learned in the states abandoned me the moment I needed it most! Daunting because I keep finding myself in social situations where I’m unable to contribute to the conversation. I’m the one sitting quietly in the corner with my face screwed up, trying to come up with the spanish to say the most basic of things.
Honestly, though, it’s a fun game to play — I am completely in love with the process of learning a new language. I’m enjoying recognizing new patterns of speech, learning common sayings en espanol, and finding the many similarities between the the two languages. I’m also enjoying the creativity. Since my vocabulary is so limited, I need to find new ways to say what I need to communicate. This becomes almost like doing a crossword puzzle — which I love — as I try to think of synonyms for words that will get me close to the word I’m looking for. Finally, I’m appreciating the silence that comes from not being able to speak when I’d like. The addition of silence offers me time to evaluate my contribution to the conversation and consider how it will be received and understood.
The language barrier also offers another opportunity to confront fear. I found quickly that I had to release fear of judgment if I was ever going to take my spanish for a test drive. I needed to accept that I would just not be a smooth speaker for awhile, that I would stumble over words and use wrong words, and speak haltingly and slowly. These moments provide a very real sense of crawling out on a limb, sliding my shaky feet beneath me, and slowly, with intention, coming to standing. I just might come crashing down, but luckily, I chose a limb that stretches long and low over the earth, so I won’t be too hurt when I do fall.