Puedes repetirme? No entiendo. No lo se.
These are just a few phrases that I have had to utilize since moving to Mexico. It is an every day struggle. It does not have to be. I have a pair of American roommates and plenty of students from USC with me who I can use for an English outlet. However, this matters. Right now it is everything. It is a way to communicate with new people, it is a tool I can use for the rest of my life, and at the very least it serves as a base for the Romanian language I will have to learn in Moldova when serving in the Peace Corps. On top of it all, it is fun. Going to class is enjoyable. I have been able to pick up new words every day and I try to combine them to create new sentences. It makes ordering food, riding the bus, or talking to a stranger that much easier. Do not get me wrong, I am still a complete amateur but little by little or “poco a poco” it is slowly coming to me.
Months from now, my goal is to be very proficient in conversations and able to conjugate many verbs in the past tense. Currently, the most difficult thing for me to do is speak. I have found it tremendously difficult to listen to long sentences and then instantly fire back a reasonable or coherent response. The greatest battle has been to ignore the tendency of translating words and phrases into English. In order to speak Spanish, I need to think Spanish. Sounds weird but bare with me it has been helping. During the first couple of weeks of being here I would translate every word in Spanish to English and it did me little good. It is good to know what a noun might mean or an unusual adjective as well but going through an entire sentence translating everything normally does not make sense. Another difficulty of mine is listening to someone who speaks very fast and being able to immediately comprehend what they might be talking about. Outside of my teachers and friends, this goes for just about everyone. In conversations with strangers if I display that I know a phrase without prefacing that I am a beginner, I get a very rapid response. Sometimes I receive multiple sentences consecutively, in which I can maybe pull out a few words here and there. Most of the time I ask for a mulligan, which annoys people, and also receives a smile or snicker. I have been taking this in stride though as I would probably feel the same way if I was in their shoes. In most cases, I take a step back and pull out my dictionary. I look like a complete F.O.B (fresh off the boat) but it is the only way I know how to get what I want thereafter.
Besides the great amount of negatives I have experienced thus far with using this language, some of the positives I have noticed in the past two weeks has been my ability to read full sentences and understand the meaning of them. If I can find a familiar verb or understand the structure of the sentence I usually come out with the point. Additionally, my pronunciation has been improving. I feel comfortable reading out loud and not stumbling too much. I am nowhere close to advanced with the aforementioned, but it is a start.
It is a daily battle in the classroom from 10-4pm or sometimes 10-5:30pm, but piecing the beginning steps together has been completely fulfilling. Add this to waking up and coming home to a Spanish speaking host mother; the learning process becomes further enduring. In the past two weeks, there have been a couple days that I have felt extremely burnt out but I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing right now.