Archive | February, 2012

The Spanish Challenge

7 Feb

Last year, before I went to Guatemala, I thought I could speak Spanish. Then we landed and it turned out that the only thing I could really say was “Hola”. Apparently the hours of staring at conjugation lists and learning how vocabulary related to buying and selling a house (something I did SO much of in Guatemala) didn’t really prepare me to actually TALK in Spanish. The trip was still wonderful but I always felt frustrated with my lack of ability to understand what the kids were saying and I’m sure that I could have had much more meaningful interactions with some of the girls had I actually been able to converse with them.

When I left Guatemala, I was determined to improve my Spanish skills and be able to talk before I returned. I kept up with this for a few months, making flashcards and buying workbooks and attempting to converse with my Guatemalan friends. Then school started back up and life got crazy. I thought, Oh I don’t need to work on these things, I’ll be in Spanish 3 so obviously I will improve.

Yet we’re 45 days away from my return to Guatemala and my Spanish skills are no better than last year. I may be in Spanish 3 but I’m not learning a thing. I can write basic sentences but ask me to speak Spanish and I freeze. The verb conjugation charts and vocabulary about fairytales are not helping me. I guarantee that when I’m trying to talk to high school students in Guatemala that they’re not going to ask me to make up a story based on some pictures. While I understand that we learn the vocabulary to help us understand the usage of each verb tense, it’s just not helping me reach my goal.

I don’t need to understand every verb tense under the sun or know 10,000 different words. I just want to be able to have simple conversations with my friends in Guatemala.

So I’ve set myself a goal, one that I’m hoping anyone reading this blog will hold me to. I want to improve my Spanish enough to hold basic conversations while I am in Guatemala. I have 45 days and if this guy can become totally fluent in 3 months, I can reach this goal in 45 days.

I’m formulating a plan on how to reach this goal, which I’ll write a blog post about soon.

In the meantime, do you have any advice for trying to learn a language when you cannot properly immerse yourself into the country and culture?

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Pre-Trip Worries

5 Feb

My return to Guatemala is getting closer and closer. There are 47 days until our plane takes off. Each week we have a meeting to get together as a group and discuss things for the trip. I usually end up speaking at these meetings because it seems people believe things coming from someone their own age as opposed to a teacher and we want to get everyone excited.

47 days.

I’ve waited for this trip for so long and I’m so excited that it’s so close that I can barely sleep at night. I look through the pictures I look last year, reread my journal entries from the trip, and every part of me wants to be back there. Right now.

I anticipate seeing all of the friends I made last year, impressing them with my new Spanish skills, and seeing the bilingual secretary teacher whom I’ve kept in contact with and running up to her in excitement. I think about the market on Sunday and the yarn that I want to buy. When we go to Panajachel, I know exactly what I want to buy. I’m determined that this trip will be just as magical as the last one.

But what if it isn’t?

I hold the days that I spent in Guatemala so close to perfection that I’m afraid I’ve exaggerated in my head. Last year when I went, I had no expectations. All I had was a bunch of fears and a little bit of excitement. But this year, I know what to expect. We’re going to the same places we went last year. All of the people that I met last year will still be there. I’ve been waiting for this trip to come for so long that I’m worried that I’m going to let myself down, that it won’t be as wonderful as I’m expecting it to be in my head.

This time last year I was so afraid to go on this trip that I almost considered backing out. I was afraid to get on the airplane, afraid to try the new foods, afraid to be away from home, afraid to hike up the ruins, afraid to try to speak Spanish. This year, I don’t feel any of that. This year, my only fear is this. The fear that it won’t be the same, that I’m ruining something special by returning.

Has anyone else ever had these feelings about returning to a place that they loved? Is this just nerves talking? Is this normal?