Some Days I Hate Speaking Spanish

Honest post ahead:

In high school and college, speaking Spanish was a ton of fun! I didn’t have “off days,” I didn’t feel bad about my accent, and I never felt self-conscious! I thought I was pretty darn good at Spanish too. (In truth, I wasn’t half bad.)

That all changed when I first set foot in Spain in 2008. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t understand a lot of things. I got nervous when people gave me directions, nodding stupidly, and hoping they wouldn’t notice when I walked off in a direction opposite to the one in which they had told me to go. Vale became my favorite, end-the-conversation-NOW word. Every so often, a Spaniard would compliment my English, but I knew they were lying. They just had to be!

Slowly, through my years in Spain, I grew more confident in my abilities. I learned so many new words, phrases, and ways of speaking. My Spanish family is sometimes delighted when I say things like, ” … que no veas,” as though what I said was, indeed, la leche. There are good days, days when the words flow, and people don’t have to wait for me to spit out the word vitrocerámica (why can’t we just call it a fogón?). These days are when I feel most competent and fluent, the days I like (sometimes even love!) speaking castellano.

But lately, a lot of my days have been bad days. Why? It’s hard telling. It’s true that speaking Spanish has helped me in many ways, but I’m not the same person en castellano. In English, I’m witty, quick to make a joke. I like talking. In Spanish, I’m not quick to make any jokes, and sometimes I’ll just say nothing rather than make an effort to speak. Yep, seriously! I’d rather just shut up than make that relatively tiny effort. Is this sad? Am I the only one? If so, consider me pitiable. Another thing I hate: Spaniards mocking my accent (high schoolers—I’m looking at you!) or correcting me when I’ve not explicitly asked them to do so. (That’s just rude, isn’t it? I mean, I know agua is feminine, but we say el agua, so sometimes I mess up when I speak too fast. Stop correcting me as if I don’t know!)

Problem is, I know I shouldn’t hate speaking Spanish, that I should take advantage of my time here to speak as much as possible and learn from everyone. I even have my own personal intercambio at home! I’m quite lucky, in fact. But whenever I’m excited or angry or emotional or sad, I want to speak in English—because the words mean more to me, because I feel them more deeply. Mario accommodates this; sometimes he speaks back in Spanish and other times in English. When we argue, it’s in English, and I can’t help but feel grateful because arguing in Spanish is just the worst. Try having a debate with Spaniards and see how it turns out for you!

If it seems I’m grumpy, perhaps I am. It’s been one of those days.

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27 comments

  1. I could not agree with you more!!! It felt like you were describing my sentiments exactly. As a Spanish major, I learned to read and write REALLY well, but didn’t get so much practice speaking…and even though I know what is correct, and what I need to say in my head, it often somehow gets jumbled on the way from my brain to my mouth and it comes out choppy and awkward. It’s so frustrating, because I feel like the people I meet who I only speak Spanish with see me the way I am when I speak Spanish: shy, hesitant to contribute or crack a joke.. when in reality I’m the opposite!

  2. I used to feel like this all the time in Spain! It’s frustrating, but I’m sure you’re your own worst critic. Now that I’m in Russia, I wish I could express myself half as well as I could in Spain :)

  3. I completely understand. The mocking used to infuriate me. (“ok, let’s hear YOU speak some English!”)

    In my experience, emotions and numbers are so deeply rooted in our first language that it is very very hard to access them instantly in a second (or third) language. Very hard indeed.

    So yes, I hear you!

  4. I have the same problem. Or should I say the opposite?
    When I first came to London I didn’t get half of the conversation, I was used to BBC English not to cockney!
    I definitely spoke better and understood and that was even worse because as soon as I got in a taxi and said where I was going the driver would start a conversation as if I was a fellow British citizen and I was completely lost.
    I feel much more confident now and It’s not a problem any more if I keep asking people to repeat whatever.
    I still struggle with some accents though (speaking on the phone with colleagues from India is hard!).

    I don’t think you should feel attacked if someone corrects you. My husband keeps saying la mapa instead of el mapa. He knows it, yes, but he doesn’t think of it when he speaks so I am in the hope that at some point he will just get used to el mapa without having to think before speaking.
    And he corrects me in English too. And yesterday someone at work. And sometimes I would say such a stupid thing we all laugh out loud!

    But mocking you because of your accent is just unacceptable, particularly when they would be much worse in English than you in Spanish! Sally’s response is great!
    I would definitely use that or a similar one

    1. Marta, thank you – but I never responded that way! I only *thought* of responding that way.

      I agree, mocking is never acceptable.

  5. Right there with you chica. I speak in public only when I need to, I am a lot less outgoing in Spanish. I still need time to wqrm up in the language and that takes 5 minutes or so, so it rules out small talk for me. I am about to go to France, with an eye for possibily moving there. Last time I was in France I was so happy to be back in Spain at least communicating basicaly with others, and I spoke practically no Spanish back then. I hope the trip will get me to put things more into this perspective: language is just a tool for communication, not something to get nervous about.

  6. I find that it’s not so much as I hate speaking Spanish – Some days I feel as if my tank of language has run dry – I try to speak it, but there’s just nothing there – as if I’ve used it all up oj other conversations! Great, honest, post.

  7. Hey, don’t beat yourself up over it. Some days we all have more uphh than others. I know what you mean, when I was there it was hard to let my full personality shine through. Some days I just didn’t feel like the mental hamster wheel. The beauty of it all is that everyday is a new day. What puts you in a funk today maybe something that makes you shake your head and laugh tomorrow.
    I find people here in the states(even some politicians) mock other people whose English isn’t great or give them the why don’t you speak English look and it always makes me angry. Having been on the other side of that (as most of your followers) I truly know how hard it can be and that some times you just need a mental vacation from language land.
    so don’t worry this too shall pass and you will look back and see who has the last laugh..ahh teenagers. ¡Tenga un buen fin de! :)

  8. I hate speaking German. I hate that people tell me my accent is “süß” when I really just sound terribly American. I’m very lucky I can speak english all the time here, even if it is a missed opportunity, it removes a lot of frustration.

  9. when I was a language assistant in France, high schoolers used to do that, mock me and correct me and just laugh plainly. At first this infuriated me but I suddenly realised they were the ones to be made fun of. One day I simply replied: call me back when you speak Spanish half as good as I speak French, or maybe never! Ha! It was the last time, they were sort of nice to me from that day on (could have also been because I threw a chalk right to the forefront of this very same student one day and the whole class was scared of me??). Who knows :) But I understand the frustration. French is my third language and sometimes I want to argue with the boyfriend and just can’t so I end up mixing up Spanish, English and something similar to French. Awesome.

  10. I think this post hits home for anyone who has spent time immersed in another language. I remember crying for no reason in front of my profe when I studied abroad in Ecuador. Sometimes thinking, speaking, reading, writing, and listening in another language is simply exhausting. Although I must say, when I taught Spanish in high school, I was so much more patient with my international students, understanding that they were living in their second language, and taking my class in their third language!

    I love reading your perspective on the Spanish language and culture. Keep up the good work!

  11. I’m in the exact same boat! Lately I’m so over Spanish! Esteban and I have recently switched our percentages, and we speak mainly in English, I just need a break, but I still want to continue to learn and practice occasionally!
    And I 100%agree about shutting up when speaking to spaniards, smile and nod rather than sound stupid is my motto!

  12. I think all of us feel this way sometimes, tired of sounding “stupid” and of people correcting us when we just want them to listen to what we’re saying! And it’s hard to feel like you’re not really yourself when you’re speaking another language, like you’re not funny or witty or anything else.

    I think sometimes the only thing to do though is to embrace that, to learn to love the different “versions” of yourself. I’ve noticed that although I’m not as funny in Spanish, for example, I transmit my emotions better. I don’t know if that’s because Spanish is inherently more of a “warm, emotional” language, or just because I don’t feel as personally connected to the words themselves and therefore feel less embarrassment about saying them…but either way, I’ve come to view these different aspects of my personality in different languages as a good thing. Now, when I want to be funny, I speak English, and when I want to express something emotional that’s difficult to express or awkward, I change to Spanish or French.

  13. I’m fortunate in that I feel like my personality in Spanish is nearly the same as in Spanish, but I’m always straightforward with people when I speak with them – I’m NOT de por aquí, I will not always understand them from the get-go and I will make mistakes. When I taught in a high school, I used it as a mutual learning situation and then used myself as an example of what lack of embarrassment and commitment to learning can bring.

    I mess up constantly, but I’ve learned to be less self-berating when I do. Did you understand the gist? Pues, me vale.

  14. I hear ya. I carpool with two other teachers to/from school and eat lunch with other faculty members three times a week, and I’m usually quite silent during these Spanish or Galician-dominated conversations. I have absolutely no problem understanding what people are talking about (even in galego!!) but most often I just sit there and listen…very rarely contributing my 0,02€ unless someone asks me directly. Part of the problem is the teachers are always complaining about students or other teachers—and so I honestly have nothing at all to say—but, like you, it just requires too much effort to speak up, express emotions that can be said more nuanced in English, and attempt to jump in to fast-paced, dominant Spanish conversations. Ah well…at least I’m no longer shy when I speak English :D

  15. I can relate, Kaley. When I studied abroad, I would often times sit back during conversations – particularly those in heavy andalúz accents. In English, I am quick, witty, and, as my friends would gladly tell you, I never shut up. It’s different sitting back and not saying anything. However, it gives me a different perspective to just listen to people. I’m prepared to be quieter again in conversations because I’ll be heading to Spain in September. It’ll be a change, but I feel I’m prepared for it!

  16. About the high schoolers making fun of your accent – that’s awful. I studied abroad in Spain though, and have a Central American accent (I learned Spanish in the US and most of my teachers were from there) and noticed that Spaniards look down on Latin American spanish and accents. I even went on a date with a Spaniard who told me that Latinos don’t speak “correct” Spanish. I’m not latina (I’m eastern european) but that attitude was so arrogant! Needless to say, there was no date #2.

    I noticed that English people say the same about American English – that it’s not “correct”. Europeans are just a lot more snobby about stuff like that. In the US some people make fun of accents but not to the same extent. My theory is that since non- Euro immigration is a relatively “new” thing to Europe, people are not used to different accents, cultures, and way of thinking. To them (especially Spain) the only “right” way of life is their way. What do you think?

  17. Yeah I had those bad Spanish language days where nothing seemed to come out. My students never seemed to make fun of me too much, they were too busy not listening to me in the first place haha. The French are very back handed when they compliment you for speaking French unlike the Spanish who are so enthusiastic if they hear you say “Gracias!” which I absolutely loved.

  18. I can totally empathize! I love speaking French but sometimes I just don’t feel like it. Like what you wrote, when it comes to telling a quick witty joke, it doesn’t come out as fast in a second language OR during small confrontations. I literally get tongue-tied when someone tries to cut me in line or yesterday when some woman at a cafe told me to get up from my table because she *saw* it first. It can be frustrating at times. I feel you! Loved the honesty of this post. Thank you!

  19. Oh my gosh, I could have written this post word for word, except my language struggle is with English. 19 years into it and still have those days when words are just jammed in my throat. I enjoy reading your posts, your honesty makes me feel less of a freak show in a foreign land. :-)

  20. A (not very old) basque proverb says: “No cuentes tus penas a los amigos. ¡Que les divierta su padre!”. You must think of the poor spaniards, all their lives “studying” English and never, never being able to speak it. What a language! Monosyllabic (as an indoeuropean Chinese) and having an infernal spelling (You don’t know how to pronounce a new word before hearing it).
    We suffer, yes, but not in silence!

  21. I agree 100 percent with everything you said in this blog. Sometimes when you’re tired, or don’t feel like it, making that tiny effort to put together a sentence in Spanish feels like climbing Mt. Everest. I also don’t feel like I’m the same person when I’m speaking Spanish as opposed to English either. I’ve been studying and speaking Spanish for a few years now and I wonder if that will ever change. Who knows?

    Oh, and the whole mocking thing … my boyfriend (from Murcia) oftentimes, without realizing it, starts talking in an exaggerated English accent in Spanish, and it drives me crazy! He assures me he’s not making fun of me, and he tries to not do it so much, but it still stings.

  22. Ugh, I feel you on this one and my Spanish is almost certainly much worse than yours! I hate having those “stupid brain” days, which happen all the time. And like you said, when you’re emotional it’s even tougher to overcome them.

    People usually don’t make fun of my accent or correct me (actually, I’d like them to correct me more often). But it’s tough to convey humor and sarcasm. A lot of people assume that I’m a stereotypical stupid blonde California girl, and so if I make a stupid joke they honestly think I’m just THAT dumb. It’s quite surprising how ready some people are to accept that anyone with an American passport is an idiot.

    I actually find that my Spanish is worst when I’m at work, just because it’s more important to communicate precisely and effectively there. It’s a vicious cycle – the more nervous I get, the less I speak…so when I do have to speak it’s suddenly a much bigger deal. Everyone at my office thinks I’m really “fría” and don’t want to make friends, but that’s not true.

    1. hi Yessica, perhaps you won’t read this comment…i don’t think that Spaniards tend to think or as you say we are ready to accept that anyone with a US passport is an idiot…what? i don’t know what kind of people you meet, but why should we think that you or your fellow countrymen and women are idiot? of course there are Spaniards who may think that you are an idiot mainly because they do think that all Americans are like Bush, a president who has given the USA a bad name in the world and is recognised in Spain as a total idiot, so that is the reason many ignorant Spaniards think you all are the same thing.

      there are ignorant people everywhere, in Spain and in USA, but you should not speak as if the whole of Spain is ready to judge you as an idiot, for i might do the same with lots of Americans who think that in Spain we eat Tacos and look like Mexicans…..must i say that all Americans are ignorant and ready to judge us all? no way Yessica, for i cannot judge the USA as whole just because some ignorant people think mistakenly that i eat Tacos…we don’t eat Tacos but we say them :-)

      please note that in Spain a taco is a bad word or a curse amongst other meanings….

      last but not least Yessica, i know how you feel when saying that your Spanish is worst when you are at work….my English is quite better when i am on my own..then when i speak to Brits i get nervous sometimes because i want to do my best…and i end up ruining it….then when i get home i say to myself what an idiot i am, haha!

        1. yes you are right….i don’t even know how i did fail to see that you just meant some people, for i always choose carefully my words before commenting……anyway i’ve never heard of a stereotype called “stupid blonde California girl”, i mean, many Spaniards do think that pretty women have no brain ( meaning they are silly), but California from my point of view has nothing to do with it….perhaps such a regional stereotype exists in the USA? i have no idea

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