Monday, September 21, 2015


Arriving at the school was slightly painful... the teachers don't speak English at all. I could understand the hand gestures and a few of the words well enough to get the general gist (you're going to take a test, then meet the host family), if they spoke really slowly. And then I met the host family and found out that while the husband speaks a little bit of English, the wife speaks none.

It was a little daunting. I did find that I didn't need the crutches as much as I used to think I did, but I still found myself in the deep end trying to swim. Suffice to say it was a quiet first couple of days, outside of the English that I was occasionally speaking with the Canadian and the Dutchman who were also staying there.
(And I still felt guilty about much of that - Diana would cook us dinner and then sit quietly while the three of us rattled on in English, which she doesn't understand. I've been the one who can't understand anyone else, and it sucks.)
But today was a breakthrough.
I'm not sure what exactly changed between the end of last week and the beginning of this week. To be fair I'd seen signs of the breakthrough on Friday - a few times, I was able to ask a question about a word or idea, clarify what I wanted to know, and actually understand the answer back.

But today, I spent half an hour after lunch talking with Roberto (my host) about how Spanish is spoken differently in different areas of Mexico. And the conversation was almost entirely in Spanish. He switched to English for a few words here and there, and I had my phone handy to translate the ones I had trouble explaining, but overall it was a relatively smooth conversation. The words I didn't know, I was typically able to ask about.
(There was a visitor who had taken three weeks of this same class that I'm in, and he asked if I really had only been in the class for one week - because he had trouble understanding most of our conversation.)
And later, after getting back from the gym, I ended up sitting down and talking with Diana (other host) for about an hour in Spanish - and she doesn't speak any English, so that was entirely dependent on my ability to explain what I was trying to say (and the occasional Google Translate.)

I'm not sure what it was in the past day or two that really made it click. I went from having to cut off most of my sentences with "no sé la palabra" (I don't know the word) to being able to explain the concept in a way that would let them understand it, and then tell me what the word is (and when to use it).

I think part of it is that I have a natural affinity for games like Catchphrase - I'm able to take a concept or idea and expand around it, make connections to other words, or explain it with complimentary words. Words like "opuesto" [opposite] I made sure to learn and remember as soon as possible because of how useful it is in discovering a new word. "Es opuesto de alto [tall]" is a great way to figure out the word for "short."
(While I may be good at Catchphrase-type games, don't ever ask me to play Scattergories - I hate that game with a passion. Games where you're given a broad category, like "words starting with S," and asked to come up with things within that category are, to understate the problem, not my strong suit. I broke my self-imposed lifetime ban on Scattergories once - which only served to remind me why I first instituted it.)
And really... this was the entire goal. When I told people that I was going to study Spanish for two weeks before going on the trip, I was told "you can't learn Spanish in two weeks." Well, no, I can't. But my hope, and what I believe I have achieved, was to be able to get to a level where I can learn more Spanish without using any English. If I can explain the concept behind the word I want to use, I don't need to learn the word right now - I'll learn it on the way.

And while I've still got a week left, and I'm sure it will make everything a little smoother, I feel like my conversations today confirmed that I've (mostly) reached my goal. Eventually, I will get to the next level, where I can listen to two native speakers talk to each other and understand it. But the goal of the class, of this two weeks of immersion? I feel like today I achieved it.

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