I've Been in Spain for Five Years, Why Do I Still Suck at Spanish?
OK, that's a bit dramatic but it feels like I should be better but by whose standards?
By the way, this is the third time I’m writing this entry. I noticed the first two attempts fell a bit flat at addressing why I wasn’t fluent in Spanish yet. I don’t know if I was making excuses or explaining. I don’t know if it makes a difference.
My Spanish partner is fluent in English so we’ve always spoken in English. My intensive Spanish class got interrupted due to the pandemic and the new one wasn’t as enjoyable with the limited student interactions and reduced number of in-person classes. And do you have any idea how hard it is to communicate with others who are also trying to learn the same language as you who speak with an unfamiliar accent in a low volume cause they’re insecure about it all while wearing a mask?
My previous attempts spent a lot of time breaking these things down. But it’s like, first of all, my Spanish isn’t terrible, easy Tiger Mom Hyun. I technically passed my B1 class exams and can move up to B2. For those of you not familiar with language classifications it goes from A1 to C2. The official certification exam however is next week.
My listening and reading comprehension is on the higher end. My writing is OK. And speaking is my weakest. And it’s because I haven’t really tried as hard as I should have. I signed up for one-on-one language exchanges online, even sent a few messages, and received some messages. But I never met up with anyone.
I know one woman here who has a different language exchange partner for each day. But she also admitted that she lies to people about how long she’s been here because she wants them to think she speaks well for the amount of time that she’s been here. The fear of judgment can be powerful.
At a family lunch about a month ago my partner’s mom said that we needed to stop speaking to each other in English if I wanted to improve my Spanish. She was right. But like so many things in life, I always knew that’s what I had to do to get better at it.
Most of us already know how things work. Want to lose weight or get into shape? Eat better and exercise. Want to get better at something? Spend more time practicing and actually doing it. Want to save more money? Spend less on things you don’t need.
Knowing what to do is one thing and doing it is another. I’ve thought about how my ego has helped and hurt me during my Spanish learning process. For example, I take pride in my accent and cadence in Spanish. I’ve always been pretty good at picking up those types of things even as a kid. I get a kick out of observing and studying people.
At the same time, my cadence and accent skills gave me a false sense of how well I spoke Spanish. People would often remark on the quality of my flow. Yeah, sure I could spit a simple bar or two. But if I have to string together a few of my thoughts, forget it. So I’d just ask people questions and let them talk instead, which most people prefer to do over listening anyway. Except, of course, it didn’t improve my speaking skills.
Earlier in the year, one of the class assignments was to post a video of ourselves talking about a bad vacation experience. The teacher asked if she could share mine with the class. I def let that go to my head. Well, guess what, I never did another one of those assignments again even though she kept encouraging us to use the app to practice. And so what happened? The monologue was where I got the lowest marks in my exams.
My partner says I never get nervous. I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s that I do a great job of hiding it. I definitely get hot, turn red, and sweat at times when I speak Spanish. Can others not see that? In the midterm, I also did something super weird where I answered 5 for question 5 when we were supposed to pick from a range of letters.
Like what was going on there? Was that nerves? Was that me being overconfident? I have no idea. But I did laugh about it and while I obviously got the question wrong, I took confidence in knowing that it was a stupid error and not something that I didn’t know.
All in all, no I’m not terrible at Spanish. I definitely envy those who speak much better than me who have been here for a shorter amount of time than I have. Then I tell myself that I’m almost twice their age and that it’s harder for older people to learn new things. And I’m like ugh, ego go away.
I haven’t gotten to know my classmates this year like I did last year when we shared desks, had almost double the number of students, and moved around the class freely to engage in lesson-related conversations. It was fun learning about their lives. They were from Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, England, Egypt, Algeria, Ireland, India, and more. It brought back memories of my time spent in ESL classes with Mr. Diviney with San Nhar and Tom Nguyen at Belle Sherman Elementary in Ithaca, New York. I actually looked forward to going to classes last year. This year, not so much.
I’ve thought about not moving up to B2 if classes will be under COVID-restrictions again. It’s really not fun learning a language with masks. I never realized how important it was to see people’s mouths when they talked.
But I know, while not ideal, it’s what I have to do to get better. I need to focus less on getting everything right and more on letting words flow, even if they’re wrong. I need to stop comparing myself to others regardless of age or how long they’ve been here. That’s not why I’m not getting better.
What I need now is the confidence to fuck up and keep talking anyway. Or this was all just talk and I just wasted y’alls time.