Sunday, January 16, 2011

hablamos espanol aqui

When I put 'learn Spanish' on my list, I felt a little like I was cheating. After all, I'd taken two whole years in college and spent that month in Uruguay nine years ago--didn't I sort of already speak it? No, is the answer to that question. I definitely do NOT speak Spanish in any meaningful way. True, all of those conjugations of hacer, tener, estar etc in my little Spanish workbook (side note: I forgot how consistently hilarious language workbooks are with their outdated cultural references: The Spice Girls!) look vaguely familiar but I still can't get very far into a conversation without waving the white flag of 'no hablo espanol muy bien' pretty fast.

My Spanish teacher is named Paula, she is a primary school teacher during the year and is only a couple of years older than me. She's a good teacher despite the fact that she seems to always be tired (with the lifestyle and the late dinners here I'm actually not sure when anyone sleeps). She has only been to the US one time in her life, to go to Disney world when she was a little girl. Her professors of English have all been British so whenever she says words in English, she does so with this perfecty posh accent. She says 'Madonna' (a regular guest star in the workbook as well as Paula's favorite singer in the world) in the most adorably odd, breathy way that sends me into a fit of giggles each time; I cannot even try to explain to her why I'm laughing. We sit together for two and half hours every day doing exercises from the workbook and stopping to chat (charlar!) a bit about work, places we've travelled or would like to travel and our love lives; this last line of conversation gives me much to add to my vast anecdotal evidence that dating is horrible everywhere and that everyone is convinced that it must be better elsewhere.

Thankfully my Spanish skills seem to be improving at a good pace. Each day the fog of Spanish being spoken all around me clears a little more and I'm a little more certain that when I open my mouth there is at least a chance of something intelligible coming out.

I went out with some new friends from the school the other day and we talked about how we could never understand people who moved to a country and didn't try to learn to speak the native language at least a little. Beyond the fact of isolating oneself, I don't know why one would deny themselves the pleasure of being immersed in a new language. Granted I think I might feel a LITTLE differently if it were mandarin or arabic we were talking about. I am both relieved and disappointed every time I find that someone here does speak English. And I can't quite bring myself to talk to the couple of other Americans who are with the school; it just feels like cheating. How do you feel when you run into your compatriots abroad?


  1. I'm so glad you're having a good time and it's heartening to me that your Spanish skills are coming along quickly. I harbor fantasies that when I get back to France, French will come sort of easy to me. (big hopes on both fronts)

    When I went to France, I first spent time with the other Americans in the program. But when I started spending most of my time with a very good looking Moroccan and his friends (none of whom spoke much English at all), my language skills improved quickly. By the time the program ended, the evaluators were able to identify every student's nationality, but mine. I credited my friend and his friends for that.

  2. i wish i could leave some long comment about my ex-pat experiences, but i mostly smile and nod when faced with a language barrier. (i know i know...shame shame shame on me)

    so happy you are there doing what you set out to do. i want to hear more. details details, please.