Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Language Wall

I've hit a big wall with my Spanish in the last few days. Suddenly I sound like an idiot, unable to roll my r's, conjugating poorly, and lacking vocabulary which was once a staple in my brain. It's funny, but I'm also having trouble communicating properly in English. It's as if my head is breaking down. I think I'm just tired, and need a slight break, just long enough to refresh myself.

In classrooms back home, they teach you the basics of Spanish, and justly so. Most people will never wind up working in a Spanish speaking environment, let alone speaking the language on a daily basis. The things I learned in class and through my own investment in Spain and Latin America, both in conversations and friendships, has put my skill at a high level. Not to brag, but I know how to ask where the library is and I can manage asking for a menu. No problems there. But in a classroom, they don't really teach you much business Spanish.

I'm continuously learning this as I go, trial by fire. If I sit down with a co-worker and talk about what I like to do and explain my background, we can have a good conversation. But when I need to ask someone how to make an extra cell on a spreadsheet, or explain that Mozilla Firefox wouldn't let me download some application because I don't have the latest version of Office, well then it just takes a bit longer for me to explain. And that somehow affects my confidence, which definitely affects how I sound. I'm well aware that I sound like an idiot most of the time in my office, but it's mostly because I have to learn new terms every day. I have a notebook filled with new vocabulary I've learned on the job.

Lately I've been translating a lot, and though it can be very difficult and challenging, I really enjoy it. Sometimes I have to ache over a paragraph for 40 minutes, but once it's done it sounds like it was actually written by a native speaker to begin with. It also helps me learn more vocabulary this way, though the problems generally arise from fancy menus with terms in French that I'm not even familiar with in English. This constant flux of English and Spanish throughout my day has me cross eyed and trying to keep up. Today I accidentally said, "That's mejor!" (That's better!)

These mental walls are normal in any second language, and they just as overcome-able as they are unavoidable. I've been through them before, and you always think you're brain has let go and you've lost the language. You just need some time to rebound, and you come back much stronger than before. It's amazing to feel the difference when your mouth forms words you didn't know you'd learned. All you can do is push on until that happens, even if you do sound like the village idiot on the job. I am the office idiot, I guess.

Tomorrow is New Years' Eve, and the time has flown by so quickly I haven't even noticed or had a chance to do a "year in review" kind of thing. We work a half day at the office tomorrow, and after I'll be heading south about 6 hours to Mar del Plata with my co-worker and her friends. Mar del Plata is a city of about 1 million people, located in the Pampas province. Apparently the beach gets so crowded you are elbow to elbow with people, and winds can get strong. It doesn't sound like the most picturesque beach, but then again Argentina isn't known for beaches.

We'll be spending the weekend there as well with the extra day off, and come back on Sunday night. So until then, have a happy new year.

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