It wasn’t until I got to Arica and was laying in bed talking Boris before bed that I realized something. He asked me—in spanish of course—Have you thought about the fact that you won’t be speaking English for a while?
No, I hadn’t really thought about it. I was just excited to see him and anxious to meet his family but hadn’t thought much about the fact that it would be spanish only. It’s the best way to learn though, and one of the biggest reasons I came to Chile in the first place so I wasn’t necessarily worried about it.
And I should clarify, Boris always encourages me to speak English. He understands a lot and wants to learn more—in fact I was giving him some English lessons in Puerto Varas but now that we’ve been traveling and I’m not thinking and dreaming about English grammar 24/7 like I have been, Boris’ English lessons have fallen by the waste side.
The first two or three days were fine but a little strange, by day three I hadn’t spoken any English to anyone and went on whatsapp texting my family that I desperately needed a skype conversation—in English. That was on November 4th and until last night (November 15th) I hadn’t had another English conversation (and the conversation last night was about 3 minutes long with a guy from California staying in our hostel). I can now cross off my bucket-list that I have gone over a week without speaking English—not exactly sure if that was ever on my bucket list but I will definitely be writing it in along with sandboarding and then crossing it out with proud satisfaction.
We’ve been around a lot of tourists but it just so happened that our tour group in the Salt flats was made up of two Argentines, two Chileans and me. While I heard other tour groups of North Americans or Europeans speaking to each other in broken or fluent English, I didn’t actually interact and talk with anyone more than a few words.
Now I’m of two minds. The first is that I’m very happy and proud of myself to be speaking and thinking almost entirely in Spanish, and the second is that I’m really grateful to speak English. Not just enough English but actual fluent academic (although it’s been a while so I’m not so sure lately) English.
There are English schools all around the world filled with students who want to speak English or parents who want their children to speak English. I asked every one of my students and almost all of them say that English gives them more opportunities. I used to respond, “you mean more job opportunities?” but I often got a repeated answer along the lines of, “yes, in work… but also in life!”. Many of my students wanted to learn English to travel, they told me that anywhere you go you can usually find someone that speaks English. Then there’s entertainment; all hollywood films and millions of songs are produced every year in English and are spread across oceans to be dubbed or subtitled in other languages. I just realize as time goes on how privileged we often are to speak a language so many others around the world are working so hard to learn later in life, and like most privileges, it’s so easy to take it for granted.
With that said, I’m so happy to be bilingual. I have learned so much from learning spanish, and believe me I am STILL learning everyday. I’ve learned words yes, but in learning a language as well as teaching English, I have learned how to communicate with people outside of words. I was able to teach hour and 15 minute English classes to 5 and 6 year olds who didn’t speak a word of English beforehand without them completely going crazy or becoming too frustrated. Sometimes they even had fun. There’s so much to communication outside of words and my relationship with Boris has taught me that more than anything. Ok, get your mind out of the gutter—I don’t mean THAT kind of communication (although there is that :) )—I mean that sometimes there’s just another factor. It’s a glance or a nod or a smirk that says everything and nothing at all. And in those moments, you just know you’re on the same page as that person.
Then there are the actual words. Like love in English which has about four spanish translations depending on context.
There are ways of saying things—expressions—in other languages that can totally shift your perspective of a situation. For example “Don’t get upset” in English roughly translates to “no te enojes” in Spanish. When I hear “no te enojes” (from Boris when I’m getting upset at something that’s probably not worth it), it translates in my head back to English as “don’t annoy yourself”. Don’t annoy yourself. Don’t upset→yourself. You are the one doing and receiving the action based on how it’s phrased in Spanish and this realization hits me time and time again when I hear those words because I remember that I’m the one upsetting myself not someone else, not some harsh negative outside force—me. I am creating and recieving the action of upsetting or annoying—me. And how stupid is that? What a waste of energy to be getting a rise out of yourself when you could be focusing on birds or trees or I don’t know, the huge economic gap between rich and poor.
Point being, you learn a lot from learning a language—you learn a new way of thinking. You take on a different perspective. Along with that, or maybe because of it, you take on a persona that is ever so slightly different that the person you are in your native language. I’m constantly decoding and piecing together similarities and differences in my head between Spanish and English. I’m listening at a different rate, using a limited vocabulary, there are a ton of factors that make the spanish me a little different than the English one.
And that’s kinda fun.
ok that’s my Public Service Announcement for today… go learn something. I suggest spanish.
Also I’m grateful for English books and podcasts because they are my outlet when I’m really feeling isolated by language.