Three weeks from today, Kidlet and I will be on a plane, Colombia-bound. Many details of our two-month trip are still unknown to me, and I’m trying to keep up with plain old life here in Seattle. I try to keep my spirit light, but in all honesty, I feel ringed by overwhelm. This isn’t my first trip abroad – it’s my 5th to a Spanish-speaking country, and my 8th in general – so I don’t feel anxiety about being there; but my hope for this trip was to be very prepared ahead of time because with Kidlet as my travel companion I figured I’d have less time for decision-making and book-reading once there.
But regardless of how ill-prepared I am, we will be boarding that plane!
I’ve been steadily working on my Spanish language skills, but it would be good to bump it up a notch these final weeks. Especially for Kidlet, I don’t want her to be too taken aback by the immersion experience. There will be people around in many places who speak English, I’m sure, but one of the primary objectives of this trip is to jump-start her Spanish speaking. I need to pay attention to being disciplined in that regard – including not letting people use me and her as their English language partners!
One thing I’ve been doing that’s no good is saying something to Kidlet in Spanish and then translating it for her. I need to stop doing that. Her brain needs to do the work of deciphering. I had a Spanish teacher once who chastised me: “Don’t translate what I say into English!” The temptation is so strong to find equivalents, but English and Spanish are not the same. Not to mention, that mental translation create a significant pause in response time.
I’ve gotten better about treating Spanish as Spanish. There are moments when I’m speaking with my tutor, and she’ll ask a question, and I’ll respond from my gut. It literally feels like I’m speaking from my stomach area, not from my head. Those are the moments when I feel like I’m conversing in Spanish. Learning to trust my studies -and my brain to grab the conjugation I want to use – instead of THINKING my way through a sentence is very satisfying. It’s like speaking English. But it’s only small moments. The goal: make those moments last longer and longer ….
Photo taken in Xela (Guatemala) of crowd at a religious festival.
Let me take a quick moment to tell the story of my Spanish tutor here in Seattle. Years ago when I was studying for a few weeks in Guatemala, I had a wonderful teacher in a tiny school (called PLQ) in a village outside of a small city in the mountains. When I decided to go to Colombia, I thought, “Boy it would be nice if I could find a situation with a tutor like her!” Her style had meshed really well with mine and I learned quite a lot of Spanish with her. Of course, I had no hope of this and just did a standard web search for Spanish lessons here in Seattle that I could bring Kidlet to. I happened to stumble upon one site that sounded very promising. I clicked around on the website and then landed on a photo … the teacher looked familiar (which is amazing because I can be awful with remembering faces). Then the name … it rang a bell. It couldn’t be?! I sent her an email asking if she had taught at a language school in Guatemala almost nine years ago. Yes, it was her! As Fate would have it, we are both now married, living in Seattle and have young daughters. The world is a very small place.
Anyway, my lessons with Glendi have been going pretty well. We spend most of the time conversing about ordinary things, and then the last half hour of the two hours on grammar. The homework she assigns me is all about verb conjugation and translation. Vocabulary is not so much an issue as I just pick it up as needed, but getting the hang of the past (preterito) tense is what I’ve been focusing on. All those irregular verbs! It’s much easier in writing and reading because I’m good at making sense of context, but when people speak you can’t control the rate at which they do so! On my own I’ve been reading Spanish poetry and simple books – my favorite exercise. It’s one of my goals to write poetry in Spanish, and I get a real thrill out of sussing out what a poem is expressing.
Needless to say, studying Spanish is something I look forward to every day. I try to do a little bit of something, even if it’s just reading for ten minutes. The days I spend 2-4 hours studying, my brain is so tired, but in a good way. I’m curious to see how Kidlet will react when we get to Colombia and her brain also has to stretch in this manner. Hopefully she won’t get too frustrated, and the exertion will have her sleeping soundly in the night! (I can dream, can’t I?)