Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Spanish: Improving

I am now on my fifth day in Guatemala. There's much to report and remark on, but my main focus (and cause of exhaustion) thus far has been learning and attempting to speak in Spanish.

It should be noted that the last time I had any sort of formal education in Spanish was elementary school, and I'm not sure I can really count that. My more recent education has been from listening to my students, the two weeks last summer in Costa Rica and Nicaragua (where I was sheltered by traveling with three Spanish teachers who did pretty much all the talking), and the many times that random people have mistaken me as Latina and started speaking to me in Spanish. Which is all to say, I can understand a decent amount (including a lot of curse words), but can speak approximately nothing.

The first place that this has caused a problem is with my host family. They are incredibly nice and welcoming and all of that, but I can't really say much in response to their questions. Most of the time I can understand what they're asking, but my responses are all one or two words: "Gracias!" "Esta bien" "Soy maestra de matimaticos" (which I quickly learned should be "de las matimaticas." Oops). I know they don't expect me to be fluent, but I just feel rude that I'm not really talking to them. It's not that I don't want to; I just don't have the words to say what I want. Smiling, nodding, and making exaggerated gestures gets me somewhere (like they stop bringing me tortillas eventually), but it doesn't work when they ask me what I've done that day.

The good news is that my Spanish classes are kind of amazing. Every morning I spend 4.5 hours with one other American (a special ed teacher from Minnesota) and our teacher. With only two people in the class, it's impossible to hide. So far, I have probably learned at least 200 new words as well as regular (and some irregular) verb conjugations in the present, past and future tenses. I swear that I have already been taught an entire Spanish I course in the past three days, if not more. Whether or not I have learned an entire Spanish I course is debatable. But I do see a noticeable improvement in not feeling like a complete idiot.

My primary goal in being here is to be able to speak to my students' parents, so once I learn some more words/phrases like "throwing" and "never does homework" I think I'll actually be okay.


Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Is this through a specific program? It sounds enormously useful. How long will you be there?

Linda said...

I spent two years in Spain and still could not conjugate much beyond present and future tense for most things. I certainly did not learn how to say "throwing" or "does not do homework". You sound like you are making good progress. Just jump right in there and feel comfort in your mistakes getting smaller.

One woman we knew in Spain thought she was asking a group of elderly men where to buy something that she needed. She later realized that their startled looks were because she had actually propositioned them all. Much bigger "oops" than leaving out leaving out the "las".

SWE said...

I'd say don't be afraid to try out your newfound knowledge on your host family. They'll appreciate the effort and will laugh with you at the silliest mistakes. Be a chatterbox.

My best experience with German was when a fellow student and I wandered all over the place speaking in our broken German and trying to help each other communicate. I'm sure we looked and sounded like lunatics, but we ended up with waaay better oral skills than anyone else in our respective classes (she says modestly).

Can't wait to get together when you're back home!

Jaya said...

I know one of those: "No hace nunca la tarea."

Seriously, don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself--that's how the learning happens. You'll know you've got it when you get back to California and everyone asks about your Guatemalan accent.

Geetha said...

It's sort of a program through a language school in Guatamala called Casa Xelaju. They offer specialized courses specifically for teachers, so I came with a group of other teachers from various parts of the US. It's five hours of Spanish lessons every morning, living with a host family, and doing cultural activities in the afternoons. Very useful--definitely a good use of two weeks of my summer and highly recommended to others.