Sunday, October 14, 2012

Learning Spanish

My trusty Spanish tools: pocket dictionary and a notebook for new words!  My notebook has pages for food, for my two worksites, for getting my hair cut, for sickness.  I can pretty much guarantee that this notebook with new vocabulary will become a record of my new experiences for the year and my attempts to explain these experiences in Spanish.
The thing I was probably the most worried about in my YAGM assignment in Mexico was the language.  I studied Spanish for two years in high school and then for another two semesters at PLU, but I in no way felt prepared to live for a year in Mexico or to function at a conversational level.  During orientation I attended Spanish school in Cuernavaca, which definitely helped my confidence level.  But it's been a struggle.  At work I'm bombarded with brand new vocabulary: destornillador plano (flat head screwdriver), destornillador de cuadro (Phillips head screwdriver), tornillo (screw), coser (to sew), ciego (blind), sordo (deaf), aflojar (to loosen), picadura (mosquito bite), freno (brake), apretar (to tighten), género (gender). 

After spending a day at work learning new skills and trying to name them in Spanish, or observing an entirely new workshop, I return home to a household where English is only spoken when my brother is working on his English homework.  Instead of collapsing after a long day of work, I still have to function in Spanish.  I have to try to construct grammatically correct sentences, when all I want to do is give my brain a break. 

Since my arrival in Mexico almost 8 weeks ago, my Spanish has progressed immensely.  My vocabulary has expanded exponentially, and I feel so much more comfortable speaking.  I can use verb tenses I struggled with in my classes at PLU, and I can function on at least a basic level in Mexican society.  That being said, I am nowhere near being fluent, and don't expect to get to that level in my year in Cuernavaca.  I still don't talk very much at family meal times because I get frustrated with my lack of vocabulary on any given topic, and I regularly have to ask for sentences to be repeated (but I maybe only need something repeated once, instead of two or three times!). 

I am so in awe of my fellow YAGMs around the world who are learning and using completely new languages.  Even with their language school during orientation, I can't even imagine starting in a brand new country with a brand new language.  Can you imagine moving to Madagascar, being given three weeks of Malagasy training, and then starting a new life there?  What about learning Hungarian or Malay or Arabic or Xhosa or Afrikaans?  And then there are the stories I hear of my fellow volunteers using multiple languages.  Of Kaia, who uses her Mandarin skills in Malaysia while trying to learn Malay.  Of Kristen, who speaks Spanish with her program director in Hungary.  Of Kelly, who helps the girls at her work site in Malaysia with Spanish.  I'm sure there are countless other stories of people trying to use multiple languages in their communication all around the world. 

I am thankful that I am not starting a brand new language here.  I am thankful that I only struggle with one new language here.  I am thankful for everyone who patiently listens to my (sometimes awful) Spanish and corrects me without making me feel like a fool.  I am thankful for work supervisors who speak in English when I get confused.  I am thankful for the woman at the CEDISH workshop last week who came up to me and told me she wants to talk in English with me because she wants to keep practicing.  I am thankful that I can help my brother Maury with his English homework, and that he can help me with my Spanish vocabulary.  I am thankful for dictionaries and Google translate.  I am thankful for the opportunity to learn a new language, and I am hopeful that I will continue to improve in the weeks and months ahead.

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