My Spanish is getting so much better here– better than its ever been, and I’m loving it. When I first arrived here over six months ago Manna Project paid for me and the rest of the new Program Directors to have 40 hours of Spanish school to help us build a stronger foundation. I was a bit annoyed after learning and re-learning Spanish grammar all the way from middle school up until I was a stressed, over-caffeinated college student to have to sit through forty hours more of classes… but surprise, surprise, it was wonderful. My Spanish teacher Ivan and I mostly talked about music, watched Ecuadorian movies about hitchhiking and unrequited love, and covered the stray grammar point and vocabulary word that had fallen through the cracks of learning Spanish in academia in the States.
Six months of daily use has done wonders, and my Spanish has never been nearly this good. My classes with Ivan are over, but I have a new Spanish teacher now…my ever-patient boyfriend José, who doesn’t laugh at me when I butcher the pronunciation of things, and knows how to poke just the right amount of fun at me to make me feel comfortable rather than discourged. He likes teaching me curse words in Spanish while reminding me never to say them and points out how sing-songy and romantic my Spanish is becoming from talking with him all the time. He’s giving me the time and space to realize that showing my personality isn’t necessarily dependant on the English language anymore.
But there are definitely times that I have to resort to the nod and smile technique. José is from Cuba, which has a historically difficult accent to understand… he kindof swallows the end of words sometimes without realizing how hard it is for me to understand him like that. At this point he definitely knows when I’m glossing over words I haven’t heard before, and he’s stopped letting me get away with things like that now and helping me learn the things I still don’t know.
There are some moments like that that can be totally frusterating.. not knowing simple words like “cranberries” at the grocery store, or not knowing how to explain to someone how much I missed them while I was at home for three weeks for Christmas, or accidentally saying the word bitch instead of t-shirt because they is just a one syllable difference. Then there are those other moments when I feel like I will just never be able to feel at home in Spanish… or here. When bus drivers assume that I am a tourist and tell me in cobbled-together English that they’re not headed to downtown Quito, to tourist central… yeah dude, I know, I’m just trying to go to the grocery store to grab some milk and cereal from breakfast tomorrow. Man, it’s hard sometimes. I’m fluent now, and I feel confident saying that, but it’s still hard. Gringa Latina isn’t an easy concept to understand, or to live.
When I told my family and friends that I was dating José, I think more than anything they were most surprised that we communicate only in Spanish. Yes… only in Spanish. They know how to say things like hola and dónde está el baño, but the rest is mostly jibberish to them. I don’t think they can wrap their heads around the idea that to me it isn’t jibberish anymore. Every day I am untangling the bits of Spanish that are still jibberish to me; I am growing more comfortable expressing even the most confusing, exciting, lovely emotions in Spanish.
Nod and smile, fake it ’til you make it. I’m giving it time and all the patience I can muster, and its turning in to something really beautiful.