EL IDIOMA ES NUESTRA VIDA
There are many things that are frustrating, to say the least, to tackle later in life. For instance, as I was leaving the pool the other day, after handing out galletas (cookies) for Spider’s birthday, I saw a group of adults in the pool for a group lesson. They were hanging on the wall, looking up, listening to their coach and waiting for their directions. I quickly looked at Skye and Spider’s coach and said, “Adultos?” They were just learning to swim, for the first time and I was ridiculously proud of them. It’s scary to learn to swim when you’re older. Later that night I thought, again, about those same adults who were learning to swim and thought, they are not THAT dissimilar from Erik and me with our language classes, except, at times, I fear we are still swimming with floaties, so to speak.
Learning a language as an adult is fantastic, fulfilling and ridiculously frustrating. Not frustrating because of the skills of anyone except ourselves. And, frankly, I think we get frustrated because we want to be learning it faster. But, in our defense, we are learning from the ground, up. We are learning the tenses and vocabulary and the pronouns and where to place them within the sentence…UGH! For example, the reflexive verbs are a killer. When you want to directly translate, “I am looking in the mirror.” You have to translate it into. “I am looking in the mirror, myself.” I get it and I understand it but on the fly, when you are still learning the language and are trying to piece together a sentence phrase by phrase or, occasionally, word by word, from English into Spanish, you can get stuck. (I realize this is the wrong way to do it and am working on just using my Spanish to speak as opposed to translating my English thoughts…give me time) The kids, on the other hand, are so good with the language and their accent but are now going back to fully understand why they say it the way they “just naturally do”.
Colegio en España
Jardín de Africa
Our goal, when we hatched this plan, was to be “really competent” Spanish speakers when we returned to the US. I knew it would be difficult. I knew it would take a lot of work, a change in habits and a bit of money to pull it off. I also knew that our reality was quite different than a college student’s experience. I knew it would be impossible to only speak Spanish and nothing else. Full immersion is just that, only the new language every moment of every day. And we would love to do that at some point in our lives…yes, even Erik and I. But we had to allow for some sense of home for the kids. And home, as I have written before, is as simple as food and language. So, even though I try to speak a ton of Spanish to them when they walk through the door or hop into the car, we quickly turn to English at their request. After all, their entire day is in Spanish.
Erik and I started our language journey on Sept 14th here in Spain. That’s when we arrived at Inlingua for our 2-week intensive course. And honestly, that’s when I was introduced to a whole new past tense that I had never learned before. The present perfect tense. Sorry, Oakmont High, but either I wasn’t paying attention or it was never a part of the curriculum. I took two years of high school Spanish, which was…well, a few years ago. Erik had only taken a few classes of Spanish before our adventure began. But, Erik speaks German. And, honestly, once you know another language, I think it is so much easier to figure out more.
Many people have asked about the kids and their story is really the reason why we are in Spain for our year abroad. They are in a public school program called Dual Immersion. There are quite a few all over the US. Many are for Spanish, several are for French and a few are for Mandarin Chinese. In Park City, UT there are two schools with French programs and two schools with Spanish programs. Our kids have both been in the Spanish program since Kindergarten and by the second semester of first grade have been required to speak ONLY Spanish in their Spanish classes. “Spanish class” is the half of their day that is only Spanish content. Yes, they are learning Spanish but they are also learning science and other subjects in the Spanish language. They have had teachers from Mexico, Argentina, Nicaragua, Spain and Peru. And, just to give you all the information, we put their names into the lottery for the program and left it to fate. We figured if they were meant to be in the program, they would get in. Once Skye got in, Spider was grandfathered into the program when he entered Kindergarten.
We arrived here in Spain knowing that they would not understand everything and that it would be a true struggle for them at first but we also knew that living with the language would be a fun challenge and both an accomplishment and compliment to add to their dual immersion.
So, 4 months into our Spanish learning/speaking lives (4 ½ months for Spider) and I can honestly say that we are so much better, that we are getting it and that we are learning. As Erik says, we have a ton of bricks, we know so many random words like how to say fangs (colmillos…one of Erik’s brilliantly, random flashcards) but we need more of the mortar. We need to become more fluent with using the pronouns and conjugating verbs (and all their tenses) without such a pause. There are many days when I feel like I have stumbled backwards about ten steps, but then there are other days when I feel like I made a huge breakthrough. I do wish we had more opportunity to speak the language on a regular basis and I wish we were forced to speak more throughout our daily lives like the kids.
I have an “intercambio” with a woman that I met at a super cute local shop who wants to speak English better. Erik has an intercambio with a fella he met at the golf course who is in his 70’s and super excited to reinvigorate his English. We each try to get together with our buddies once a week. I have found that the best place to score some really quality language time is at the end of La Comida (lunch) in one of our favorite Italian restaurants with a wonderful waiter named Vladamir from Cuba and at the Peluquería de Rosana. I just had my hair highlighted and our wonderful hair stylist named Mai, from Venezuela, speaks slowly and gives us a ton of colloquial sayings and words so that we sound somewhat cool when we talk.
Now that we are actually doing it and living it we better understand the reality, which is that when you live abroad, in a country that speaks a different language, making goals or having expectations is tough. Really Tough. Committing to things you can control, trying your hardest and holding yourself accountable is all that you can really do. But while doing all of that, the real goal is to enjoy it and not put too much pressure on yourself. There are days when I think; language may just not be my thing. I know I learned a ton in pre-school but, maybe, that section of my brain closed up shop in first grade. But, I will never give up and I will take every kind, even if it isn’t true, compliment from my local friends to help fuel my confidence fire.
The reality is that so many people in the world, and especially in the area where we are living, want their kids to learn English. They believe that learning English opens up incredible doors of opportunity. We have 4 English schools just in our apartment plaza. So, we should feel, accomplished in that we have “somewhat” mastered the very popular and powerful language of English. And we do.
Our language teachers are very kind. We are currently on Spanish II and our head teacher believes that we will be incredible Castellano speaking humans by the time our stay in Spain is complete. That would be awesome, but my new and real expectation is that learning a language is a life-long commitment and even if that is true, my work with Spanish has only just begun. I know that I will be seeking out people to speak with once we are back home. Until that time, we will be plugging away over here. Trying to figure out where to place nuestros pronombres y cuando usar un infinitivo. Once again, poco a poco, paso a paso….
So, to sum things up…
1. Learning another language is difficult so buckle up.
2. Learning another language takes a long, long time. Occasionally, a life-time.
3. Concentrate on the things you can control like TV and radio in the other language. (We have only watched the NFL in English since arriving…and a little of The Good Place when our family was visiting) *sidebar, I FORKING LOVE THE GOOD PLACE.
4. Forgive yourself when you feel like you are not learning as fast as you want to be, because even in that moment, you are learning.
5. Don’t give into temptation when someone tries to speak English back to you. Stick to your guns and struggle through with the language you are learning.
6. If you try to speak in the language, most people are understanding and will struggle through the conversation with you and, in the end, appreciate your energy and dedication.
7. Consistency is key.
8. Write down words you don’t know, every single day, to improve your vocabulary and understanding.
9. Talk to yourself. We do it all the time so that we can hear ourselves speaking the language.
10.Create your accent. Getting the accent is very important…and fully comprehending the importance of an accent mark can be the difference between saying “She ate” and “I eat”.
11.It’s absolutely fine to speak English inside your four walls. English is, I believe, the most important language. Feel grateful that you speak it so well.
12. If you do not have the budget for a full-blown class, there are many apps and online/youtube options that are super fun and quite effective.
-Spanish con Juan on YouTube https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/espanol-con-juan
Buenas Suerte a todo el mundo.
Y muchisimas gracias para su tiempo y para leer.