Does anyone know what is like when you are completely and utterly immersed in a different launguage and every communication takes effort? When you spend a whole day trying to learn a language from scrath and you are totally exhausted even though you haven’t done any physical exercise. That is everyday for me right now. Sometimes I am surprised that even though I don’t understand anything that through context, facial, expressions, and hand motions I can still comprehend what is going on. Other times I wonder how with all the studying I am doing, why I can’t understand word. Sometimes someone will say a sentence and it will sound exactly like French or English and I will get it. Other times people might as well be speaking Arabic or Russian.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE where I am staying. Jorge, the program director is very kind and generous with his time, talents, and possessions. I live at his house with his brother’s family. His brother is a fisher and pretty much everyday we have fresh fish for lunch that he has caught only hours ago. There is a tortilla-ria (what a word!) just 30 minutes from the house so every meal is accompanied by a stack of steaming hot tortillas. They buy milk from a cow nextdoor and the milk goes straight from the cow to the bottle, from the bottle to my cereal. Ya baby, everything is fresh and local. By now my co-horts from the greenhouse should be drooling.
But still there is that age old problem of communication. At least when I was in an immersion program in Chicoutimi, I had a foundation to build on. In Spanish I have no foundation, everything is new. I keep trying to draw on words I may of learned while watching tv (like hermano in Arrested Development), and in songs (like in the song “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” when he sings the numbers up to six). My travels thus far have buffed my Spanish skills so that I know vaguely what I can order on a menu. It is pretty terrifying when your Spanish teacher asks you to make a sentence and you have already exhuasted the words pollo, pescado, and carne. You know your spanish is bad ( and that you are hungry) who someone says something and you hear the word “burrito.” Knowing someFrench has come to my aid during this process. However my havbit of switching to French hasn’t always been helpful. When I first arrived in Central America I couldn’t stop staying “oui” even though I know the Spanish word for yes is “si.” Apparently my brain cannot handle the idea of speaking any other languages besides French and English.
But happily, it is slowly working; I can botch together a sentence in Spanish! In reality, I am in the perfect enviroment to learn Spanish. Although Jorge can speak a bit of English, he usually doesn’t. There was another volunteer here last week from the US. Her Spanish is much better than mine, meaning she can speak it. Following instructions from Jorge, (and much to my lonely annoyance) she didn’t speak any English at all to me at first. I was annoyed about this because especially on the first day I was desperate to commnicate with someone with ease. I slowly wore down on her though, so that I could get a bit of English out of her. Her name is Madysen with a “y” and she is very muscular. She looks like the Roxy postergirl just with less makeup.
Jorge’s brother’s family doesn’t speak to me in English either , because, well, they don’t know any. His two kids (6 and 8) helpfully communicate with me by counting too 10 in english and asking me (in Spanish) to draw them a dog. Tomorrow two other volunteers are coming which means that I have to move host families to Jorge’s sister.
In summary, I think the best way to learn a language, along with studying, is to scare it into someone. That is how missionaries learn languages – they are put into what would normally be considered at terrifying social situations and asked to speak a different language. Normally I am somewhat of a lazy language learner and I will fall back on English because it is so widely used. Here I speak English only if I want to talk to myself. This means of course that next week my Spanish will increase 10 fold because that is when I start teaching English to kids who speak less English than I do Spanish. Ahhh! Oh and as a bonus apparently they are really badly behaved as well. A few days ago er went to the parent teacher conference and were granted permission (as non-official teachers) to throw naughty kids out of our class. Apparently this was a big step in the right direction and Jorge was happy all day. I, although present, didn’t understand any of this and was only informed hours later when Madysen translated what had happened.
Wish me luck amigos!
PS I later found out that when I heard the word “burrito” it was probably the word “aburrido” which means bored.