Learning A New Language

Since I have been in Ecuador now for a little over 4 months and am always surrounded by Spanish speakers, you would think that I would have a fairly decent grasp on the Spanish language…WRONG!  This learning a new language thing has been an incredibly humbling experience for me.  Growing up, I was in honors classes and got good grades, so I thought learning Spanish while living in Ecuador should be fine.  I mean, I do consider myself to be an intelligent person and school is what I was good at and this is just a different type of school.  Well, I can tell you first hand that this has been way more difficult and frustrating than when I learned French in high school.

Every time I feel like I am making progress and finally improving my knowledge of the Spanish language, someone out on the street asks me a question and I have no idea what they are saying.  I might be able to distinguish 1 or 2 words, but thats about all.  And out of a 10 word sentence, those 2 words that I understand don’t really give me a very good grasp of what they are asking.  Usually, they see the “deer in headlights” look on my face, and then switch to English.  I appreciate them trying to make me more comfortable, but that is not helping me to learn Spanish.

For those of you that don’t know, Spanish has about 3x as many tenses as English-or so it seems.  There are about 5 different tenses just when speaking in the past, so this has been very challenging for me to differentiate when to use which, and half of the time, I still use the wrong one-oops.  One day during my class, my teacher and I were going over one of past tenses and I just wasn’t understanding why I should use this tense over another, and I about lost it.  All of the sudden, I put or more like threw my pen down and said “No no no…no..no.no.”  At that moment, “no” was the only word that I could say.  My teacher had no idea what to do with me right then.  He tried to reason with me and help me with the worksheet, but I leaned back in my chair with my arms crossed.  I’m sure every one of you can picture this scene right now, and if you can’t, then picture a 5 year old starting to throw a fit and that was pretty much me.  This was not one of my finest moments, but it happens sometimes.  Since we still had 1 hour left of class and I think my teacher was afraid of me, he decided the best way to calm me down was to play a game of “Guess who.”  Playing this game did calm me down and also made class entertaining while using Spanish at the same time.  I guess the classes really are paying off because last week I was in a cab, and had a conversation with the driver for about 10 minutes.  And I understood most of what he said, so that was a perfect boost of confidence for me!  Then, when I didn’t understand, I would just smile and nod…hopefully that was an appropriate response.

In the Spanish language, the word for “who” is “quien” which sounds very similar to Kim.  So when people ask me what my name is, I respond “Kim.”  They will then say “Your name?” and I say “Kim” again, which then leads them to say “No YOU, what is YOUR name?”  Finally, I have to respond “MY NAME IS KIM.”  It’s like I’m living a real life version of “Who’s on first.”  I know my Spanish isn’t that good, but after 10 weeks of classes, I do understand the question of “what is your name?”

I will say that people here are very nice and appreciate when you try to speak their language and they are usually patient with you as you try to put words together to get your point across.  But after a few experiences of being completely clueless when native speakers are talking to me, I have decided that I really need to step up my studying and practicing.  Luckily, both of my roommates speak Spanish, so I can practice speaking with them at home.  And I am watching one of the best shows of all time “Friends” in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.  This allows me to hear and see the words, which helps to reinforce what I already know as well as learning new vocabulary.  

Let’s hope that my Spanish improves because it sure would be nice to have a full conversation for once!

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