Losing My Language

13 May

It’s been sort of a rough week for my head. It seems as though I’m not only losing my English but simultaneously sucking at Spanish. I guess the English started slipping over time and with such immersion, it’s only a matter of time before the grammar starts to go. According to my dad, my blogs are getting sloppier and sloppier. I now speak no language well.

Last week when I spent the afternoon at an estancia with my job, assisting Canadian tourists, I could see how my English was exaggerated and forced. It seemed like I was subconsciously speaking with a slight Spanish accent. But why? I guess because the majority of the time that I hear English (not counting TV), it comes from a second language speaker. So over time, I’ve forgotten what English should actually sound like and naturally correct myself when a mistake is made. Basically, I spend all day in a Spanish speaking environment and either come home and continue in Spanish or don’t speak to anyone else.

This is disconcerting to me because obviously I don’t want to lose my linguistic skills in my own tongue that I spent years developing, but at the same time don’t want to sacrifice my Spanish skills and give it all up. But for now, despite my best efforts, I sound like an idiot in Spanish, which brings us to the second point of tonight’s topic. I guess since Monday I’ve noticed that my Spanish has taken a nose dive this week. I’m not that surprised by it because once every few months my brain just has a meltdown and I can’t talk for about a week. It’s part of the learning process.

The funny thing is I was describing this process to a co-worker on Monday and realized that I couldn’t roll my r’s quickly and the pronunciation was just terrible for my standards. This is how I realized I’ve hit the dry spell. It’s like my mouth has gotten lazy. I’m also having trouble understanding Spanish. This morning when trying to say ‘pero’ (but) I said ‘Perú.’ Maybe reading a book in Spanish is a reason—just overloading my head and causing a reboot. Hopefully by the end of the week or early next week I’ll be back to where I was. Or I need to rest and regroup.

This struggle just reiterates to me that it’s extremely difficult to become truly fluent in another language. I mean 100% to the point that people have no idea you are from a different country. I’ve met these people before, and when they spoke English I couldn’t tell they were from another country with a different language. It takes years and influence as a child, as well as dedication on their part. I don’t know if I will reach that stage in the limited time I’ve had to study and live with Spanish.

Sometimes I speak to someone for a few minutes and finally I mention where I’m from. The listener’s response is of surprise, and all they can do is compliment me and say I speak better than any foreigner they’ve ever heard. Other times I say two words and they immediately ask where I’m from. It’s not always that I have the gringo accent but rather that I don’t have the accent from here, that it’s so unique and different they can’t place a finger on what country or region I’m from. It doesn’t always mean they think I’m from the States, though. I can live with that.

For the time being, I need to ride out this stretch of lousy Spanish and keep improving. As for the English, it’s just a matter of time until that bounces back, but before I move home to the States I wonder how much worse it could get. I can’t imagine the embarrassment of showing up for grad school on the first day and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Jon, I have 25 years.’

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One Response to “Losing My Language”

  1. Amy May 4, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    I know exactly what you mean.

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