One of the things that drew Andrew and I to Peace Corps service was the intensive, in-country, pre-service training. When compared with other volunteer programs, Peace Corps’ three months of training stands out to be one of the best in the world. We had skills, we wanted to go abroad and use our strengths to better the lives of others, but 6 months ago we knew little about Nicaraguan culture, and while Andrew had studied some Spanish in the past, I sure didn’t know how to use the language.
The three months we spent in language and cultural training were jam-packed to say the least! After PST, we’ve had some time to slow back down and to put into practice the different ideas we learned during those months in our training towns. For both of us, we’ve been using the past two months to continue our Spanish acquisition – making friends and work acquaintances, trying out different sayings, constantly learning a little more by using the language to communicate.
Some days, I feel like I know so much Spanish! Especially for my short time speaking the language. I chat people up, I get transactions done, I navigate through my life in a world where almost everyone speaks a different language than my mother tongue. Other days, I feel like I don’t know the language at all. I get bogged down in trying to teach myself advanced grammar points, idiomatic language tricks me up with talking with strangers, and I still get that Nica-nose-scrunch when people don’t understand what I’m trying to say to them.
Learning a language is hard work.
But…with hard work, it can be done.
During PST, Peace Corps mostly focused on communicative language training – we learned how to speak and get things done, even if our grammar wasn’t exactly right. And it worked. I know how to say pretty much everything I need to say – I just know sometimes I say it a little funny, or have to try a round-about way of communicating. Emotions/feelings/intentions are the toughest as they require more advanced verb tenses, but I can get across what I need and I can understand pretty much everything that is said to me. I worked hard during training to get to this place and I’m very proud of my progress, but I also want to continue moving forward.
This past week we returned to our training towns in Masaya to have a week long intensive taller de español. (Spanish workshop. Taller is pronounced “tayer”) Unlike PST, the purpose of this week was to focus on those nitty-gritty details of grammar as well as some of the higher level tenses to help our Spanish sound, well more like Spanish. An entire week to study intensive grammar?! The nerd in me was in heaven!
More importantly though, my confidence continues to grow with the more work I put into the language.
It would be easy to get down on myself, to NOT want talk to someone new in Spanish again, because I’m going to have to repeat myself three times, three different ways before they understand me. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless with how much of the language there still is to learn.
But I’m a real believer in hard work. In determination. In being resilient enough to try just one more time to form that same sentence so that the other person can finally understand what you were trying to say. And boy does reaching a point of understanding feel good!
It was wonderful to return to our training towns once again. I received compliments on how far my Spanish has come (from the very people who saw me at my lowest and weakest points with the language). We got to see family and friends from our early days here in Nicaragua. We played with Diego. We were woken up by roosters. We once again had lots of homework. We continued our process of learning to manejar a new language.
I mean, how could we not have had an amazing week with moments like this:
Like Diego, we’re slowly transforming with every new experience and verb tense acquired.
We would love to hear what you think about this guidepost:
+ In what ways do you experience numbing and powerlessness?
+ How can you cultivate a resilient spirit?
Read/join the discussion here.