Hablando con confianza
When I got to the airport in New York City, no one spoke English. I didn’t know anything anyone was saying, but there was a certain consolation in not knowing. No unnecessary anxiety or problems were being filtered through my mind. It was an exciting feeling but also an isolating one. I still managed to get where I needed to go despite not knowing the language. Something ironic about language is that it’s usually the context that helps communicate–whatever is behind the language rather than the words themselves.
When I landed at the airport in Cusco, I felt like a celebrity. There were a lot of people holding signs, yelling names, and pushing each other. My host mother was screaming and holding a sign with my name on it. She immediately recognized me and pointed to the gate. We got into the taxi. She asked if I knew any Spanish and I said I knew a little. The cab driver’s smile reflected in the rearview mirror. The rest of the ride home was silent.
This was over a month ago. And today, if you asked me how much I know, I would say the same thing. But I’m not so sure that’s a true statement anymore.
There have been plenty of moments when I have told myself I don’t know enough to hold a conversation– and so I didn’t. I felt safe if I didn’t try to talk at all, but I also wasn’t learning anything. I find that the more often I go into a situation thinking that I am going to be open to talking and listening, the more often I actually do well in understanding conversations.
Learning a language is directly related to confidence. If you speak the language–even when you feel like you don’t know how–the worst that can happen is you leave the other person feeling completely confused, but at least you tried, and you probably made them laugh which is always a good thing. Most often, they will correct you in an attempt to help you.
Two things to remember:
1) Push yourself to speak the language. Try to use it whenever you can. I often find myself talking more than I would normally just to see if I can find a new way to speak in Spanish.
2) Learn to be ok with all the words you don’t know, and learn to be ok with silence. There are going to be moments when you simply just don’t feel like talking, as you would with people who speak the same language, it’s important to remember that if you have the mindset that you need to be talking at all times, you aren’t going to be enjoying yourself, and the conversation won’t flow naturally.
Learning a new language has given me a whole new appreciation for language. Everywhere I go, there is the opportunity to learn. I read billboards, advertisements, labels, flyers, and listen to people talk. I might not have any idea what they are saying, but just hearing the words helps me become familiar with them.
To simplify, it’s really all about taking care with your words and not being too hard on yourself.