My family has a favorite story that illustrates well the arrogance and confusion of folks in the United States concerning Spanish. Often, because many Spanish words seem similar to English words (which many are) people think you can add an ‘o’ to the end of words and communicate effectively with Spanish speakers.
Many years ago when my father was at a work conference he found himself in urgent need of a bathroom. Swiftly moving into his hotel room, he found a woman inside cleaning who didn’t understand English. Desperately, my father urged, “exito, exito!” to which the confused woman hastily retreated from the room. For those who don’t know Spanish, “exito” is in fact a Spanish word–one that means success. I wonder what that woman thought to have a hotel resident run in shouting “success, success!”
I can’t laugh too much at my father now (without also laughing at myself).
Two days ago, I went to a restaurant with the first person I met in Macas and his family. I wasn’t expecting to go and therefore wasn’t very hungry. When a woman came over to take our order, I tried to beg off. “No, estoy bien. No tengo mucho hambre, comí . . . ” but they weren’t having any of it. Since I’ve been here, people can’t seem to stop feeding me.
They continued to ask me what I wanted, and with multiple people speaking quickly to me at the same time I was completely lost. Finally, the father taps my arm and says, “I am Paco.” At first, because I wasn’t listening for English, I didn’t understand him either. So he repeated himself, “I am Paco.” The lightbulb turned on, and I nodded vigorously and explained in Spanish, “ohh, I didn’t understand because I was listening for Spanish, not English. I am Michaela!”
“No, no, I am Paco.”
“Si, y yo soy Michaela.”
At this point, much of the table was laughing. Finally, someone stopped chuckling for long enough to tell me that he wasn’t speaking English. “It’s a dish! A food! Chicken–Ayampaco!”
Nice to meet you, Paco.
In all seriousness, the language has been a struggle. Usually I can say what I want to communicate (with a lot of talking around words I don’t know and with the help of those I’m conversing with), but the understanding has been a struggle. One on one I am able to understand more or less, but add another person to the mix and have the two native Spanish speakers speak to each other, and I’m at a loss. I know that I have to go through this period where I’m confused and it is harder (how else am I supposed to learn the language?) but right now it is sometimes frustrating & exhausting.
For those of you who have been immersed in another country, how long did it take for you to feel confidence with the language?
- Host Family (lnaidorf.wordpress.com)