Update on my Quest for Fluency

Mar 12, 2008

A few days ago I got supremely frustrated about my Spanish level. I have to confess that I had this expectation that I would arrive on Mexican soil and within a couple months I would be speaking like a native. This is in part because I have been studying it since I was 7 and had attained an intermediate/advanced level before leaving but also because I had several Spanish teachers and tutors tell me that I only needed a few weeks of immersion and I'd be speaking fluently.

Notice I said "immersion." Well, after two months I find that I still have to pause and think about what I want to say sometimes, or I have to actively think about verb tense and conjugation, when to use subjunctive, etc.

It all sort of came crashing down on me the other night when I realized that things weren't going to go as I had "planned." See, I speak in English all day with my hubby, work in English, often hang out with friends in English, etc. I'm not immersed, but my expectation was still there. When I have to switch to Spanish sometimes my mind just can't make the switch.

So, as any healthy person would, I decided to share how I was feeling with a friend.

Last night I spent two hours talking about how I was feeling about my Spanish level and various other things (as well as listening) in Spanish. I have to say that I'm starting to feel a little better about it. I was being really hard on myself- I've been here 2 months- I mean, lighten up! Plus, I think sometimes it just takes me a few minutes to "warm up" to where I can speak at speed and with reasonable accuracy, although I still second guess myself.

Sometimes I second guess myself when I am actually saying it right all along and it can be sort of silly. For instance, last night I was telling my friend she had to tell this guy she's dating how she's feeling and I said something like, "If you haven't told him, he can't know" then I second guessed my grammar and repeated "You haven't told him, no?" as a question. She answered "No, I haven't told him." LOL. She didn't know I was checking my grammar.

I also bought a copy of Paulo Cohelo's The Alchemist in Spanish so I can at least spend my spare time practicing. I'll get there...


Mamacita Chilena said...

Reading books in Spanish is definitely one of the best things you can do for yourself, it helps so much!

Don't feel bad, I thought I was fluent after I had been here for 6 months, but then when I continued improving steadily I realized that even when I thought I had reached the fluent level I wasn't even close! haha, I fooled myself into thinking I was better than I really am. Finally after like 2 years did the improvement level off so I think I can safely say that this is as good as my Spanish will get. I took a test and was rated "near Native," but it took me 4 years of studying in high school plus 2 in college plus 2 of living in Chile if that makes you feel any better :)

mexpat said...

Thanks Mamacita. I think I was comparing my fluency with a friend of mine who has lived here for 1.5 years AND had a Mexican boyfriend (those apparently help, lol). I realized the other day that even if I only improve a little bit, at least I can say what I need and understand people, the tv, etc. I just gotta give myself time. My friend reminded me last night that learning another language is a big deal, it's not easy.

Fned said...

Chica, I think you're being too hard on yourself. By my own experience I know that learning a language by studying it in school will never get you very far (hubby is a witness to this having taken 10 years of German in school and not being able to speak one word of it). The best way to learn a foreign language (and one so radically different than your own) is to go to the country and immerse yourself in it.

You're doing just that and I bet your Spanish is 300 times better than it was a couple of months ago. That's the thing, even if you feel you're not advancing at the speed you think you should try this: turn on the TV and listen to the fire-rapid news commentators. If you can understand some or most of what they're saying than you're doing just fine. It took me 6 months in France before I could understand the news and this was with me spending every waking, non-working hour with my French boyfriend (I wonder if that what was keeping me from bettering my language though?).... The news is a great learning tool because there are plenty of images to help you along but still there is a real challenge to get what they're saying since they talk so fast.

Mamacita's advice is very good too: read in Spanish. Anything and everything: gossip magazines, el periodico, ingredients to a recepie, cheap paperbacks... etc.

The point I'm getting at is that just by living in the country you're "immersed" in the language... even if you think it's not the case. Don't worry about your environment being mostly english-speaking. I came to france to work for the Mexican Embassy, we were all mexican employees and everything was mostly in spanish. Yet still, you have to be able to deal with the supermarket cashier and the tax guy and the public transportation drivers, and the movie booth girl, etc, etc, etc,...

Hang in there... vas a ver que todo estará bien.