No matter what I write here, I can tell you, I’m never going to be happy with where I stand when it comes to my linguistic capabilities in Spanish…not til I’m fluent and I’m a long way off from that. However, that being said, I’m making progress and I have to take that for what it is, improvement.
When I look back to 2 years ago when we first arrived in Barcelona, I had high school level Spanish that I hadn’t used in more than 15 years (I don’t know how that’s possible when I’m only 25 ;)). It was rustic but a base to start with. Before we arrived I had been using Rosetta Stone to try to at least refresh what was somewhere lost in my head. And surprisingly, there was a decent amount still there. Since Liam was home with me full time, I didn’t really have tme to take class… ok, let me rephrase that, I didn’t take the time and used him as an excuse. I could have hired a sitter during the time he was home, but I just wasn’t ready to make the jump yet.
In September 2010, Liam started school and so I was free to start taking classes, however, I didn’t. Why? Well, for the most part, I was really just enjoying the freedom that comes with having both kids in school full time for the first time in over 6 years. The idea of going out to lunch with friends, doing work without interruption, shopping… all took precedent over taking Spanish class. My Spanish was improving just by living here and having to function in Spanish on a daily basis, but the learning curve was definitely harder and slower than I anticipated.
But then in January 2011, my friend Jodi asked me to take a class with her. I think this is what I needed to give me a kick in the pants, a Spanish class buddy. I was happily surprised when in Aula 1 (book 1), I knew probably about 90% of the content. It was a confidence booster for sure. However, I still dreaded the idea of going to class and having to focus 100% in Spanish for those 2 hours rather than just here and there throughout the day. My enthusiasm wasn’t there even though I was seeing improvements and getting compliments on how far I was coming.
I speak in Spanish everyday…most definitely not thru the entire day, but sporadically. When I go into a store, book an appointment, buy groceries, eat in restaurants, etc – I function just fine on a daily basis. But it’s functioning not full out chatting or conversation. Everyday I have an intercambio (a conversation where one person is fluent and one is not) in Spanish with my friend Jose. I see huge changes in our conversations over the last two years and one of the things I love about Jose is that he has no problem teaching me and has the utmost patience with me. I look forward to our daily chats.
Jodi left this summer and I was at a crossroads, do I take a class in the fall or do I go back to my Rosetta Stone and just “functioning”? Thankfully my friend Gina picked up where Jodi left off and in October we started Aula 2. And again, a good chunk of the book I already knew…up til about the last 1/3 of the book where suddenly the 80% of information I knew each day became the 80% of NEW information that I didn’t know. Talk about an eye opener. Suddenly the class had become a challenge and required a focus that I hadn’t put into it before in order to keep up with everyone. This was a good thing for me, I think. Motivating for sure because I didn’t want to fall behind but I’m also super competitive and didn’t like the idea that others might do better than me in class.
And again, I started seeing progress. A few weeks ago, I was waiting for Liam to finish an afterschool class. As I was waiting one of the parents from Aidan’s class sat down next to me. Now the boys go to an international school where the primary language is English. But that doesn’t mean that all the parents speak English fluently and Pablo’s mom is an example of that. She, like me, takes classes (but in English obviously) but doesn’t speak fluently. So we talked in Spanish. We didn’t talk about anything super complex, but we chatted about our plans for Semana Blanca (Feb vacation), the activities our kids were doing after school, even the fact that the kids chew on their sleeves til their t-shirts are destroyed. Like I said, nothing complex, but it was a fluid conversation FOR 45 MINUTES! Seriously, a 45 minute conversation all in Spanish. I have no doubt that I didn’t do it perfectly and messed up verbs, tenses, etc, but Pablo’s mom got the picture. When it came time to pick up Liam and I walked away, I will admit, I did a little fist pump of victory. It was a turning point for me to know that I can do this, but that I need to set my mind to it.
As we were completing Aula 2, Gina announced that they were leaving Barcelona at the end of this school year. Motivation gone… the idea of going to Spanish class on my own was not something I was interested in and started to consider other options such as refocusing on my job or getting my drivers license here. We’ve started Aula 3 which is intermediate, a huge leap in my mind, but I figured I’d start it again in the fall…but now I’m rethinking if that’s the wisest choice or to continue on as is.
Something happened over the weekend that made me rethink where I’m going with this. Aidan and Liam take tennis lessons every Saturday. When Aidan first started at this court last year a mom approached me that heard me speaking English to him and befriended me. Delphine is the nicest woman and we would chat every Saturday that I would be there (Josh would alternate weekends with me). However, this season, she put her kids in an earlier class which meant that I would have no one to talk to…that’s fine, I was there to watch the boys anyways. I had also met another nice parent, Jordi, who’s youngest son played with Aidan. I chatted with him a time or two but not much.
Fast forward to this season and Josh would take the boys more often than I would (after all I handle sports, etc during the week, he can take the weekends), but occassionally I would take them. And a few times I was approached by some of the dads who speak English, just to chat about living here and living in the States. I think they just wanted to speak in English and to me, that was a completely different perspective – wanting to voluntarily speak another language rather than having to speak it. Hmmm, interesting…
I didn’t think a whole lot of it til this weekend though. I was sitting with Liam who was sick and a dad approached me and in broken, non-fluent English, asked if the seat next to me was taken. It wasn’t. But then he continued in his broken English trying to start up a conversation to which I was happy to participate, for him this was an English intercambio, for me, it was the opportunity to bond with another local person and in the end, learn from him. He told me that he takes a course once a week in English but that he also listens to an English teaching radio station daily as he’s doing chores in his house, etc. But that’s not what fascinated me or what caught my attention. This man (who’s name escapes me), who’s English was about the same level as my Spanish, had a book in his hand, something I may not have really cared that much about if it weren’t for the fact that I couldn’t help but notice, the title was in English. So I asked him about it and he said that he was trying to read the book in English as it was another way to try to learn the language. He said, you have to not just want to learn but you have to PUT THE EFFORT IN.
He’s not the first person I’ve heard this from lately but for some reason it really hit home. Maybe it’s because I saw him on a level playing field with me – he’s at the same English level as I am with Spanish. And he wanted to learn. I’m seeing a lot of that here, the desire to learn a new language. Not because they have to, but they WANT to learn. My mindset is that I have to learn this language. I know I don’t have to in the sense that I could get by, but I have to because I feel it’s the right thing to do, after all, I live in Spain and therefore should speak the language. But my mindset is wrong, I shouldn’t have to learn it, I should want to learn instead. My friend Nasi is the same way as this parent – he’s always saying he WANTS to speak in English and watches TV in English and has encouraged me to do the same in Spanish and yet, I’ve been resistant to this idea of watching TV in Spanish or having a conversation in Spanish unless I need to. Why? I have no idea… especially because in a matter of months, I’ve seen huge improvements in his English, why wouldn’t I want to do the same for my Spanish?
He’s so right. Sure, I’m taking a class. I do a daily intercambio. But am I putting all the effort in that I can in order to learn? I hear people who are fluent by 2 years (I know it supposedly takes closer to 7 for most though) and yet, I’ve just started an intermediate course. I’m behind the 8 ball as far as I’m concerned and now I’m feeling the motivation and ambition to rectify this. It’s this realization that we have to go out of our comfort zone in order to learn that really got to me.
And so after I complete the book I’m currently reading, my plan is to pick a book from my reading list and instead of reading it in English, I’m going to read it in Spanish. I have absolutely no doubt it’s going to be hard and that it’s going to take me significantly longer to read than if I were reading it in English. But my hope is that as I continue to read the book, the language will feel more natural and there won’t be a constant need to interpret in my mind into English what is being said. I’m going to commit to watching at least one 1/2 hr tv show a day in Spanish as well, a show that I would normally watch in English so I’m familiar with the plot lines and characters. Or maybe something as simple as watching one of the kids’ movies in Spanish since the language in a child’s film tends to be much simpler.
Regardless, the moral of this story is that none of this is going to happen thru osmosis. I need to put in genuine effort on various levels, not just taking classes twice a week. My kids have Spanish class daily and have more fluency than I do. I’d hate to move back to the States and not be able to claim that I can have a decent conversation in Spanish after all my time here, it would feel like a waste of time lived in Barcelona. It’s another way for me to embrace the culture here (though you will NOT see me studying Catalan, one thing at a time) and to truly feel like I’m living this life to the fullest. Wish me luck!!!