-Learning Spanish is a great leveler. Socially, “foreigners” don´t seem foreign. In the United States, we have a mixture of people from all countries. “Foreigners” are those with clothing that is different and accents. Even if a person is fluent in English, it´s the accent that makes them sound foreign. Here, in Santiago, I am aware that my appearance is different with my quasi-backpacking clothing and oversized knapsack. When many “foreigners” get together to speak Spanish, we all have accents, the accent of not being able to correctly pronunciate Spanish. Listening to the basic Spanish of an Iranian or Brazilian or Taiwanese doesn´t sound noticably different than speaking with my wife in Spanish. (Although speaking to the Chinaman at the Chinese restaurant was somehow different.)
-a fair number of English words have been imported into Spanish and translate directly, “Internet,” “trek,” and “camping.” Others translate directly, but are difficult to recognize. In Spanish, the English “h” sound is not pronounced. “Shorts” doesn´t sound at all like “shorts.” “HBO” is “hacha-baay-ohh.”
-it´s easier to make myself understood than it is to understand someone else, especially if the other person isn´t acting out the communication or if if I can´t see his or her lips (telephone).
-to say a few words or expressions is relatively easy. To actually speak and converse is much more difficult.
-learning Spanish can be an ego crusher. I feel like a baby that hears language all around me; yet I don´t understand and can´t express myself. When I do speak and am understood, I am excited. However, my teachers patiently remind me of the use of verbs, consistency of nouns and adjectives, and consistency of verbs and prepositions.
-even if you say the right words, you may not have communicated. I am unsure of my Spanish. Usually I change my choice of words to help the other person understand. But often I find I need to speak louder, pronunciate more distinctly–or simply have the other person look at me and pay attention. As I talk to Dawn in English, I realize she frequently doesn´t understand me, especially the first time I say something.
-the diversity of the Spanish language suprises me. Chileans take pride in their Chiliesmos. Many times I say things and the response from my teachers is, That´s a real word of expression, but it is not common here. My question is, have I learned the Spanish of Spain and that is the problem–or is my Spanish old, bookish, or stilted? I know that Argentinians say things different than Chileanos. Chile: Son diez para doce. Argentina: Son doce moenos diez. English: ten to twelve or eleven-fifty.
-one class, we were looking at cartoon facial expressions that expressed emotions. We were trying to describe them and learn the related Spanish word. A German student said she couldn´t think of the right German word. The teacher said that was not important. It was important to know the meaning of the Spanish word.
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