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Friday, December 12, 2014

Attaining Satisfaction: Putting English Aside

We've made quite a few friends here in Ecuador; all really great people with good attitudes and a general zest for life. Most have embraced the lifestyle here in Cuenca and have attempted, on one level or another, to learn Spanish, which, of course, is a good thing. Not everyone has a good capacity for language, but locals really appreciate the attempt and are generally kind and patient.

This has brought me to a new thought, based on people's success (or lack thereof) in learning Spanish.I'd never really thought about it before, but there are definitely levels of language: travel, survival, passing knowledge, conversational and fluency. (I'm sure there are also stages- within each, but that's too much to ponder at this moment.) I know, you're thinking to yourself, of course there are, Danica! But when someone says they're learning (fill in the language) I always assume they're shooting for fluency. This is not always the case, some people are happy with "getting by". (Who knew?) Anyhow, here's my personal list of language levels:
Saying something louder, or speaking English with a Spanish accent is pretty ineffectual.
Travel Spanish allows you to order food, book a hotel room and find key tourist spots. It consists of several memorized phrases and the hope that whoever answers you speaks slowly and uses a lot of hand gestures or, better yet, advanced charades techniques.

Survival Spanish is a step above Travel. You might be able to tell a pharmacist what hurts or make a passing comment about the weather. This is also characterized by the hope that who ever answers your query, again, speaks slowly and is a charade champion.

Passing Knowledge of Spanish (or PKS) is one of the more dangerous levels to practice. You know enough to make compound sentences, if you get enough time and practice in before hand. The usual result of PKS is a rapid barge of Spanish in answer to your well formed question. Unfortunately, you're still hoping the responder will speak slowly and utilize international hand signals as well.
This is me, quite frequently
Conversational Spanish isn't terribly different from PKS, but you are more comfortable speaking off the cuff, can indicate past, present and future tense and when you're really on your game throw in a subjunctive statement every now and again (Don't know what subjunctive is? That's okay, that's why we have the internet!). When conversing, you can catch a good portion of what most people are saying, regardless of speed, but it also requires that you already know the context of the conversation, which often requires the much hoped for slow speech or the ever popular hand gestures, pointing out the topic.

Fluency, for most of us, is a pipe dream. That moment when you get mistaken for a native speaker and beam with pride will likely never happen. That being said, some people can get to the point where hand gestures aren't required and you have a large enough vocabulary to pick up the gist of the conversation with out visual cues.

What's my point in all of this? Achieving at least a level that reaches near conversational Spanish is going to make life in a Spanish speaking country much more pleasant. You don't have to wait for the only English (or choose you're own native language) speaking person at the business, who might be highly in demand. You'll save money by not needing to hire a translator to conduct basic business, like setting up internet and cable TV, getting a hair cut or negotiating for that much desired window seat at a popular restaurant.

I honestly believe that many people here get frustrated for those reasons. It's hard to wait for half an hour until the English speaker is free, or to have to have people redo things, because there's been some confusion with what you really wanted, or just not being sure if what someone is saying to you is important or not. You also get to talk with the locals; those that don't speak English and while the prospect is daunting, the outcome is almost always rewarding. (Be prepared to repeat yourself, they're almost always surprised to hear Spanish out of a foreigner's mouth.)

Consider this when planning on relocating to a country with a different language than your own. It's well worth the struggle, occasional embarrassment and time. And remember to get a really good grip on a language it takes a good four years and that's when you're immersed in it.

Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to Charity and Ana Luisa of Coffee Club Spanish. Ana Luisa is my actual teacher and she has brought me to somewhere between PKS and conversational - a pretty good achievement for a year of study and I'm giving all the credit to their program. If I can do it, so can you and it's well worth the effort. Just wait for my first Spanish blog post!

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