For years I’ve wanted to be able to walk in and carry on a 20 minute conversation with a person in another language. I was a dream of mine to have flowing conversations where I both understand and am understood as we exchange thoughts and ideas. To reach this goal I dove in headfirst with a plethora of tools and resources in my quest to learn Spanish. I listened to podcasts, used different computer programs, watched Spanish movies, and even took in-person courses while in Mexico.
Over the course of time my effort has been intermittent at best. I will study feverishly for a few weeks then, when things got hard, I would retreat from all lessons rather than to push through and keep working towards my goal. My dream over the years remained the same, but my effort varied so wildly that it is no surprise that I did not make much progress.
The bulk of my studies were from third party sources, only using my Spanish in restaurants or when needing to interact for directions or requesting items in a shop. I did not engage in the conversations I so desperately desired have because I never thought I was “good enough”. Though, in all honesty, it was fear that kept me from using my Spanish more. I was embarrassed because each time I would open my mouth I felt like an idiot groping around in the dark for the simplest words to communicate my needs. Instead, I would avoid opportunities to interact and go back to the safety of my books and movies.
My goal of being “conversational” in Spanish was not getting closer, regardless of how much I sat in front of lists of verbs and listened to podcasts. To be conversational I needed to have conversations.
I needed to make a change.
Changing the Goal Made All the Difference
Since we bought a house in Spain I feel the pull to learn Spanish more than ever. The language is all around me and I need to dive in to accomplish anything from buying a light bulb (Me gustaría comprar una bombilla) to requesting help getting electricity turned on (¿Puedes ayudarme a obtener electricidad en mi casa?). Even more important is the opportunity to get to know new and interesting people in our new community.
Over the few weeks I’ve discovered that my driving goal for learning Spanish has shifted, and thus so has my focus. No longer am I seeking to be conversational, but instead my goal is to get to know my neighbors (vicinos), learn their life stories (historias de vida), and talk about life in the village (pueblo). I want to exchange stories in the street and hear about what is going on in the village during each Wednesday’s market.
Stepping out the door into the street I want to say hello (Hola. Como esta?) to everyone I pass. I am no longer worried that I sound like an idiot, but am excited by the opportunity to meet new and interesting people. My shift in focus gives me the encouragement to get out there and try because it is the only way I’ll be able to get to know my community. Sure, I still talk like a 6 year old (I apologize to the 6 year olds who likely speak better than me) but my goal to get to know the people gives me the push I needed to get beyond and dive into the fray.
In the last few weeks I’ve spent time in the town hall (ayuntamiento) chatting with the staff to arrange various services and in the process I’ve gotten to know Vanessa, Marí, and our mayor Domingo. They have been incredibly patient with my Spanish, and in return I have been able to share what I love about our village and why we chose to live here. I’ve spent hours getting to hear the history of our new house from Jacinto, the village tailor, who used to play here in his childhood. He shared his memories of this house which was once owned by his mother’s childhood friend. And, while sitting in the plaza having a glass of wine, a lovely group of local women (mujeres) taught me Spanish words that were passed down by their parents and apparently only used here in our village. My Spanish is improving, but more importantly my life is enriched because I can exchange ideas with the interesting people who are welcoming us with open arms, rapid fire Spanish, and the patience needed to connect and communicate.
The Path is Long But I’m Enjoying the Journey
I continue to struggle with the Andalucian accent and the almost inhuman speed with which they talk, but that will come with practice. Each day I take a small step forward towards my goal of meeting new people with a hearty buenas, a big smile, and exchanging a brief word. In return I’m making new connections and potentially new friends, which is far more rewarding than the language (idioma) itself. My knowledge of the language will improve “poco a poco” (little by little) with each new interaction.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to head out into the streets to make some new friends. Hasta luego.