So, I’ll write a bit about what it’s been like for me to live in a world that speaks Spanish.
The beginning of the trip was fairly well cushioned. Our program pulled us around Santiago in every direction, every day, all day, giving us tours and letting us do some good shopping and eating. The tourguides were primarily the program staff, who were excellent and would always present information in both languages, knowing that every student had a different level of experience with the language. Quite soon, I realized what kind of a cushion we had, and I had a lot of fear when I met my host family for the first time.
Fortunately, they were very patient. They all knew that the strange new student could either speak fluently or only know “¿Baño? ¡Mesa!” They were quickly able to learn the speed of my understanding, and by speed I mean speed.
Chileans have one of the fastest and most incoherent dialects of the Spanish-speaking world. They cut out consonants and word parts, make words up entirely, and have unique sayings called “Chilenismos.” I have been told that going to Chile was a poor choice for learning Spanish for these reasons, but I’ve now grown very attached to unique aspects, even though I still don’t understand most of them.
“¿Como e’tái? ¡Vam al cine!”
“E’toy cansáo. Voy al tiro.”
In many ways, there couldn’t have been a better place to go. After my seven weeks, I’ll be able to understand anything. That’s the dream.
For the first few days with the family, I would be in my bedroom by 9:00 or 10:00 playing music in English and checking English websites, waiting for my brain to make the slow, arduous shift away from Spanish. Imagine that you’ve been at a concert or a club that’s as loud as ever, and when you leave the sounds of the street are hidden behind the ringing that’s in your ears. It takes a while for the ringing to go away before you can hear again. This is somewhat what it’s been like for me to change between the two languages. The ringing in my brain seemed to only go away if I stopped all thought and, as the Wolves say, “dinked around.” Nothing happens quickly, though it is getting better. I am almost able to successfully chat with someone online in English while following a conversation around me in Spanish. Almost.
I begin and end each day watching the news and chatting with my mamá chilena. She continues to tell me that my fluidity and comprehension have improved in the past two weeks, which I believe to be one half of the tale. The other half has to do with the comfort level, with the ringing in my brain. Although I took many years of Spanish courses, studying abroad is the only thing that breaks down the barrier between the mental mathematics of grammer and my mouth. In other words, confidence. But confidence only comes if I take the opportunity when it presents itself.