Starting from Scratch

Some of you may know that I was the rookie linguist on the team when we arrived three months ago. (Yes, really, we have been here that long.) I could almost order my own meals and knew that I should say “Mucho gusto” (basically “Nice to meet you”) when I met someone. Other than that, I was pretty much at a 1- year-old’s level, knowing a few numbers, colors, concepts, but really unable to do much with it. 

Fast forward three months, and what has changed? I am now able to converse about things I hope will happen, stories from my childhood, my thoughts on being a mom, even joking and getting my professors to laugh, which feels really good! I have learned enough different tenses to express past actions, future actions, possibilities, desires, uncertainties, unfulfilled expectations and stories to knock lots of other knowledge out of my head. Sometimes I sound good. Sometimes my tongue is tied in knots and nothing comes out quite right. 

But at the end of it all, I feel capable. I am quite comfortable taking a cab to the store, asking for help, requesting information, or explaining a problem. When someone is talking, I don’t feel lost in a jumble of sounds anymore and can follow much better the exact meaning they are getting across instead of just catching two words and hoping they were the main idea. I am fully aware that I still sound choppy and awkward, but now that I know the forms, I am eager to try them and become accustomed to the point that they flow easily. For the most part, my accent is good, so I don’t just sound like a Texan saying different words (no offense to my folks out there!). I am thankful that the process has been a good one, that we have learned well from good teachers, and that we have reached this point, when it is time to get good at it, rather than just be learning it. 

We have been intrigued to observe our daughters and their language development. Since they have attended a pre-school while we are in class, they have basically had Spanish lessons for 4 hours each day as well! They regularly say “Buenos dias” (good morning) or “Gracias” (thank you) to the taxi drivers. Shaye has particularly started integrating Spanish into her daily thought patterns and likes asking us “Como estas? Bien?” (How are you? Well/good?) or “Que es eso?” (What is that?). She also has invented some Spanglish phrases such as “Vamos a eat” (We are going to eat - normally “Vamos a comer”) or “Quieres milk?” (Do you want milk? - normally “Quieres leche?). Both girls come home from school singing songs, complete with motions, that we do not know. One of Shaye’s favorites is Estrellita, or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. And little girls singing is adorable anyway, even more so when it is in two languages. You can trust us on that one. She keeps us guessing whether the next word out of her mouth will be Spanish or English, and we are enjoying the opportunity to witness such a learning curve. 

It’s a little strange to think back to the first days of classes and remember what was difficult for me. For example, I had to have my teacher help me spell out the word for notebook, since I needed to purchase one for class and was unsure how to ask. At first, I needed almost every word written down so I could get the right idea of how to say it. Now, I can almost write down correctly every word I hear - just one at a time. So much has changed in these three months. It seems worlds ago that we came here and yet has seemed very quick. And we’re still just at the beginning.