If you have ever seen Charlie Brown and heard the teacher talk, that is a good example of how I felt the first few days in la clase de español. (Yes the bad grammar in the post title is illustrative of my ability)
I got the gist of everything but understood nothing. She asked me questions and I smiled and “sí’d” my way through the conversations. This is something I really want. It isn’t just a goal, but a mission to be able to converse in Spanish. Languages don’t come easy to me, but I am determined to learn it this time!
Part of the problem is my stubbornness and pride. I hate more than anything that lost feeling where you have no idea what is going on around you. I would rather pretend I understand, than ask someone to slow down enough for me to listen and comprehend. I hesitate to talk until I know exactly what is going to come out of my mouth.
Learning Spanish is a humbling experience. Learning any new language is a reality check into how important it is to be able to communicate. You also realize how many expectations and assumptions have an effect on our communication.
For example, I am sitting in a café at a table with 1 or 2 extra chairs and someone walks over to me, points at the chair and says a few words. I don’t even need to listen to what they say, and can assume that they are asking if I am using the chair and if they may take it from me. There’s a high chance I’ll be right. Social cues are huge in how we communicate.
While social cues do help us communicate, I also think they hinder us in learning new languages. Instead of listening we (I) assume the context of the situation and guess what they might be saying.
In a grocery store, you stand in line to check out. The first question you will hear from most large grocery chains is “are you a member” or “do you have a membership card”. Next, they may ask if you are paying with cash or credit and finally if you want paper or plastic bags. You can very easily get through a line in the grocery store without ever listening to what they are saying but always replying back correctly by assumptions alone.
My goal this week isn’t only to learn Spanish, but to slow down and shut up. Instead of assuming what people are saying and responding how I think I should, I am practicing listening. I want to stop smiling and sí-ing all the time, and to admit when I am lost in translation. The admitting is the hard part for me. Acknowledging that I am not good at something and accepting the beginner class back at square one isn’t fun for me, but a necessity.
I have 3.5 more months in South America to hablar as mucho español as I can con as many personas as posible!
I’m fighting against the french language these days. It’s a hard task even for those who already speak a latin language. I suppose it’s ever harder for you english speakers, especially to learn the many forms of the verbs, right? But don’t get desperate, after a while the language’s logic falls into place and you will be speaking like a “chica de México”. Buena suerte y hasta luego!
Caroline Eaton says
I’ve been told that it will suddenly just click and I will start understanding/speaking easier, if I keep immersing myself. It’s hard but I know its worth it!
I’ll keep you updated on if it ever clicks for me 🙂
Gracias y Merci!
De rien. À bientôt!
While watching social cues usually makes things easier, every now and then it totally bites us in the ass!
One time in Valparaiso, we assumed the waiter was asking if we’d like a drink and we said no. One hour later with no waiter in sight, we realized he asked if we’d be eating lunch today!!! Whoops….
We feel so ignorant when everyone else in the world seems to at least know 2 languages. Learning Spanish is such a great goal!
Josh Eaton says
This feels like every day for us… 🙂
I always get mixed up with the menus, when they are in a language that is not portuguese. My rule is: if you know and you enjoy at least 2/3 of the ingredients, just go for it!
Portuguese and spanish are very close relatives, but at the same time hold their strong differences. In Argentina, I started a long conversation with a guy who was asking for directions, using my “portuñol” (mix of portuguese and español). The thing was, he didn’t speak very clearly either. In the end, we were 2 brazilians trying to communicate in foreign field. As Kramer (Seinfeld) would say: “why don’t you just tell me (in portuguese) what you want??”
Josh Eaton says
At least you both tried. We’ve had people come up to us and say, “Do you speak English?!?!?!?” and when we say yes, they say, “Oh great, you looked like you would speak English!” 🙁
And on another note: “Welcome to MovieFone!” Nice quote.
Learning a new language is always a hard task (i’m still strugling with english!) but keep the patience and joy you showed in every class: it won’t get easier, but at least you will have so much more fun! I hope you enjoyed our country, and if you ever need to translate anything, yo puedo darles una mano 😉
Best students ever, I’ll miss you, guys! take care!
Caroline Eaton says
Best Teacher Ever!
We hope you miss us stumbling through our pronunciation and mixing up our “el” and “la” – keep in touch and let us know when you visit the states!
This post sums up how I’m feeling about the same situation – my fiance & I have been taking Spanish classes for 3 weeks in Buenos Aires and my biggest challenge has been losing the crutch of ‘si.’ I feel like a broken record, saying ‘si’ to everything! Once, we asked a waiter to slow down and the change was miraculous. He was happy to do so, and suddenly we could understand. Must do it more often. Buena suerte con espanol!
Caroline Eaton says
We only made it through 2 weeks – we wish we had longer. Now we will have to rely on living and speaking with locals to hopefully continue to learn more!