“¿Cuánto tiempo llevas en España?”
“How long have you been in Spain?” the hairdresser asked me.
“A table.” I responded.
I can blame the American school system for not forcing me to take two languages when I was in elementary school, but the fact of the matter is, I’ve never had quite the patience or sort of brain that is made for soaking up languages. Case in point, saying a table (una mesa) when I meant one month (un mes). In high school, I took two semesters of Spanish, in which I copied all my homework, zoned out by writing silly notes to boys, and probably retained 10 % of what was taught. My next experience with learning a foreign language was in Sweden, where I arrived a month early for an intensive course in Swedish. I remember being really pumped on all the new vocab, but as soon as we got into grammar, my mind went !!! and retreated. I found that you would be hard-pressed to find a Swede who didn’t speak English and so my Swedish dwindled at basic conversation, ordering drinks and food, and expletives. In Korea, I learned to read the new characters quickly, but speaking the language was pretty beyond me. I stored up food, animal, everyday objects, and taxi vocab from my Korean class, but never really learned the art of making a sentence. Somehow my miming abilities got me through two years there…
When I arrived in Spain and met my fellow expats, I knew I was in real trouble. Every single person I met had either majored in Spanish and/or had been living abroad in a Spanish speaking country prior to this year. They were not fluent, but they were GOOD. I had been studying my Spanish podcasts, worksheets, and online games and thought I had a nice base to start from, but when the Spanish started flowing, I realized I had no idea what anyone was saying. Throw in the second language spoken in Galicia, Gallego, and I was pretty damn lost.
I’ve been here five months now and I can definitely say that my Spanish and vocabulary is immensely better than when I arrived. My Spanish is still shit compared to all my friends and I struggle if a conversation goes on for more than five minutes, but when I listen to people speaking, I understand the main idea of what they are talking about. I know enough Spanish to live a daily life without much trouble (unlike in Korea where I had to have my co-teacher talk on the phone to my landlady every time something went wrong). It’s so freeing to be able to understand signs, advertisements, commercials on tv, conversations around me, etc. I’ve been seeing a tutor once a week, but the main thing that has helped me is just being immersed in Spanish. We go out for drinks and everyone is speaking in Spanish and I soak it in (not always speaking because my main hurdle right now is forcing myself to speak in Spanish even though I know I won’t always be saying things correctly). I’ve always spoken English with my Spanish roommates because their English is incredible, but now I have a new one, who doesn’t know much English, which is forcing me to speak Spanish even more. I am being pushed now, much more than before, which can only be for the better.
I went on a hike with two Spanish friends and three American friends so the conversations were switching back and forth between Spanish and English. I got into an inane debate with my friends Tess and Emily about the scariest animals in the world. I explained my point of view.
“Crocodiles are killing machines. They STALK their prey. That is evil.”
“Well….how can they stalk me if I am in my home. They can’t see me.,” said Tess.
“Tess, that makes no sense. I mean they stalk prey that is always by the water.”
Emily chimed in.
“How about emus? I hate birds. Ugggg, those big necks.”
We laughed and I said, “An emu?? That would take like 10 years for that thing to peck you to death.”
“I would totally rather have an emu kill me than a shark.” said Tess.
“Excuse me, ” interrupted our Spanish friend Gonzalo, “but how do emo’s kill you? With their hair? Like those sad people??”
Emo/Emu. Easy mistake, but we laughed ourselves to death, imagining an emo kid pecking someone to death. It’s easy to make mistakes in any language and to look like an idiot. My hardest problem right now is just to SPEAK, even if it is wrong. I think of all the Koreans I met who spoke in poor English (which was hilarious) but I understood them and it was fine. I sometimes don’t contribute to a conversation because I don’t want to sound like a damaged robot, but I’m just going to have to up my confidence. Today was actually a good day because when my roommate asked me some questions, I didn’t have to go over the answers in my head, they just came out naturally. Although I have found with Spanish, there are good days and bad days. One day I understand everything and I am speaking Spanish like nobody’s business, the next I have no idea what anyone is saying and I forget simple words.
It has been a journey and I still have three months to go. I didn’t come here with a goal of learning Spanish, but now I’m just trying to learn a little bit more everyday and I’ll be happy to leave with more knowledge than when I came.
It’s more than enough fulfillment to be able to get what I need at the pharmacy without miming out a runny nose..