Yesterday, in the cafeteria:
Cafeteria lady: –¿Qué quieres?
Me: –¿Cómo se dice? (points at meatloaf)
Cafeteria lady:–Pastel de carne.
Me: –Sí, por favor. Y también las papitas. ¿Cómo se dice éste? (points at carrots)
Cafeteria lady: –Las zanahorias.
Me: –Sí, damelas, por favor. Y, al fin, un panecito.
Friend behind me in the line: —Did you take Spanish for your foreign language?
When people ask me why I started learning Spanish in college, the short answer is to simply shrug and say, “Uh, I don’t know. I just wanted to learn it.” The long story, though, is that I got hooked with the Spanish language during my freshmen year of college. My school required a foreign language, and since I had just recently taken Latin (yeah for homeschoolers!) in high school, I thought that Spanish (which is derived from Latin) would be pretty easy. Then Christmas break of my freshmen year (after taking one semester of Spanish), I went on a mission trip with my church to Lima, Peru.
I and some other people from my church helped the missionaries there put on two Vacation Bible Schools for the kids in the neighborhood, and we also got to do a bit of touristy stuff. My one semester thus far of Spanish meant that I could say: Hello (¡Hola!), good (bueno), thank you (gracias), you’re welcome (de nada), my numbers (uno, dos, tres), a few of the colors (rojo, naranja, azul, amarillo), and some other random words (carro, enferma, perro, etc.). All in all though, I really wasn’t able to effectively communicate with the kids that we were doing the VBS for. However, I knew just enough words that I realized that I could learn a lot more.
What really got me hooked on Spanish during that trip, though, was on the last day of our visit, when the missionaries let us clueless Americans go shopping in that marketplace by ourselves. In most stores, there were fixed prices for everything, but in the marketplaces bartering was the name of the game. And guess who knew the numbers in Spanish? That was me! And then trying to get a taxi ride back to where we staying, guess who had to translate (and almost get us lost too)? That was me again.
So, by the time I got back to the States after that trip, I felt a super-strong yet random desire/need to really learn the Spanish language. I ended up taking three more semesters of Spanish. I also invested in an English-Spanish Bible, and in less than a year I had studied enough that I no longer needed the English part to fully understand what was going on. I also found some creative ways to learn new Spanish vocab words in the midst of being super busy with schoolwork:
I learned that the easiest way to expose myself to new Spanish words is to just make some pictures with the words and stick them on the desktop of my computer. I also found that I learn the words better if I associate the Spanish word with an image rather than simply having the English translation next to the Spanish. That way, whenever I try to think of the word, I don’t have to first think of it in English, then translate it, to remember it. This is essentially what the Rosetta Stone software does, in that the whole point is that you try to discover the meaning of a word from the context given in a picture, rather than by giving an English translation and making you memorize the Spanish.
I now read in Spanish for several hours each day, as well as take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to practice my Spanish skills, such as in my conversation shown at the start of this post, and also with other friends of mine who want to learn Spanish too. I am fluent yet? No, not even close. Will I survive when I go down to Latin America next year? Yeah, probably, although I may have to go through language school for a while to brush up.
Not only has all of this studying benefited me personally (it will definitely help me when I do go abroad), but it has also opened up doors for me in terms of being missional. As with my conversation in the cafeteria, it helped open up a door for a friendship. Sure, the lady also could speak English, but by showing her that I was interested in learning more of her own native language, I was able to build trust. I’ve also had several opportunities to use my Spanish in lengthy conversations with native speakers. For example, this past summer I went on a really cool mission trip to Guatemala. Because my Spanish skills had drastically increased over the two and a half years since I had gone to Peru, I was able to have a lot more conversations with the kids that we ministered to, the missionaries that we worked with, and everyone else that I came into contact with.
So, am I going to able to become fluent or competent enough to speak Spanish before I head overseas? We will see. I do know, though, that this crazy idea that God put into my heart three years ago now has already resulted in great things being done for his Kingdom, así que sé que Dios tiene un plan con todo esto (so I’m pretty sure that God has a plan with all of this)…