About a month ago, I was in a hurry. I had 10 minutes to check out at the grocery store, and get over to school to pick up Gavin. I was thinking about the 5 others things, that I didn’t get to that day and when I could squeeze them in my schedule that week, when I realized that I was not catching at all what the cashier was asking. I said a hurried, yes, and kept on with my own thoughts. I than realized the cashier was asking me another question, and not only had I no idea what she was talking about but also no idea what I had just said yes to. I could feel my face reddening, as I all at once felt like another oblivious confused “Gringa”. Eventually, the lady behind me in line, tapped my arm, and in slow simple Spanish, explained what the cashier was asking. I embarrassingly mumbled something in Spanish, to the tune of “Thank you for your help and sorry I was lost in thought, and not paying attention.” All the time I could feel the red creeping up my face, as I was silently chiding myself for not being able to handle a simple trip to the grocery store in my second language after living in Latin America for almost 3 years.
Yep, almost 3 years in and still having plenty of embarrassing language moments. Multiple times there has been instances where I am talking with a patient and we are going along, and then all of a sudden they move to some other subject and they start revving up the spedometer on the pace, dropping words and …. there you go…just like that, they have completely lost me. I am left grasping at straws, desperately trying to answer the question, all the while, looking at their face…realizing I have definitely missed the mark, and that was not their question at all. Subsequently knowing I have to say the dreaded…"Can you repeat that explanation and your question again? I am sorry I didn’t understand all you were saying.”
Asking people to repeat, to admit you don’t know what they were saying, stumbling over the words you really want to say, completely botching the accent… it never gets easier. Actually, I find myself sometimes, being harder on myself with my language learning the longer we are here. When we first moved to Costa Rica, I had the built in excuse of being in language school. Then, the first year or so here in Honduras, I had the built in excuse of still figuring out the language, especially Honduran colloquialisms, phrases, accents that are very different than Costa Rican. But now, August will mark 3 years of living in a Spanish speaking country. So, I keep catching myself using my little self-critical, deprecating voice more and more.
A good friend of ours recently sent us this beautifully simple yet encouraging quote that has helped me tremendously with being more self-gracious in the language learning process:
I have gone back to that quote over and over again, to help combat those critical voices in my head; those moments when I need to laugh at myself and then give myself a pat on the back for trying. Those moments, when my stomach still does somersaults as I walk into a Honduran birthday party preparing to make small talk in your second language. Those moments when I am gearing myself up for hosting a dinner party for friends in our second language, and I find at times if I am completely honest, kind of wanting to try and make up an excuse of why we can’t host. It is in those moments, that I remember, living cross-culturally is tricky, it can be really hard. Learning a second language and living in your second language is difficult; it is frustrating, and sometimes it gets easier, but sometimes it is just plain hard.
It does take bravery and it takes persistence in grace to laugh at your mistakes, to try again, to be ok admitting you messed up. To be perfectly content sounding like a kindergartner a lot of the times. Because, it is in learning and living in a second language that you not only learn so much more about yourself, but about your community, about the world…it gives you a whole new perspective. And that is worth completely butchering the language at times, and having to ask for another explanation or repeating of a phrase 100 times over!
“Living another language is not only learning different words for the same thing, but learning another way to think about things.” -Flora Lewis