In the U.S., I took for granted what it meant to understand and be understood. There is so much more to understanding than the words we say (or hear). Words, like it or not, are cloaked in a cultural context. Moreover, we are surrounded by context. When I say the words Super Bowl, what comes to mind? Separately, they do not have anything to do with football. But together, they mean football, January/February, great commercials, parties, beer, food, your unadulterated hatred for the Chicago Bears (oh wait, that’s just me)…so many things. In Spanish, it’s the same. When I say jamón serrano, my boyfriend’s probably thinking a million different things, things that he associates with that food of all foods: red wine, intense flavor, tapas, la patria. You, however, most likely have never even had it. (It’s good. But it’s not the best food ever. Don’t tell Mario I said that.)
When I talk to people here, I don’t sound the same as I do in English. It’s something I don’t appreciate that much, as words are my tools, and I use them appropriately. I like to sound intelligent. (Really, I like to be intelligent, but for now I’ll settle for merely sounding that way.) I read a lot, books and otherwise, and thus am able that knowledge to inform the things I say. This can be good or bad, depending on how well I remember what I’ve read and my ability to reiterate it in a comprehensible manner. In Spanish, I’m not well-read, much to my chagrin. Yes, I’ve read some novels and plays in my Spanish literature classes, but nothing I remember and nothing I really know how to employ in everyday conversation. (How often do 17th century Spanish conflicts come up in conversation? Not much.)
Another thing I’m convinced of: I sound terribly naïve. Imagine an eloquent foreigner speaking English. Now imagine an eloquent, native orator speaking English. Who sounds more intelligent? Probably the native speaker. It’s just how things are. It doesn’t mean that the native speaker is more intelligent, just that they sound that way. It’s frustrating to a foreign language speaker, as how one sounds is not necessarily indicative of how smart one is. I know that it depends on the day whether I am able to employ my Spanish skills to the best of my abilities. Sometimes I’m tired; sometimes I have a headache.
One more gripe and I’ll finish. I swear. When conflicts arise, it’s nice to be able to defend oneself both eloquently and skillfully. I’m not as able to do so in Spanish as in English. In English, it’s easy to be snippy. In Spanish, I end up sounding like a petulant child and, well, no one wants that. It’s way more fun to sound like a total you-know-what (rhymes with “witch”) and get the last word in. I suppose it works to my advantage in some ways that I am unable to make sure my insults really sting.
As for you, dear reader, are your words important to you? Are you struggling to grasp another language? Tell me about it in the comments.
(By the way, I recommend this video.)