I have been thinking in the bilingual brain and how it works without our help. When I was learning English, I stopped translating when I was completely immersed in English (my second language), I could not just float in the bilingual waters, it was time to swim!
Here is Rebekah’s immersion experience in Guatemala, or as she called it her time to dive in head first and go for it!
When I started learning Spanish it was kind of a “eh. whatever.” thing for me. I enjoyed learning it, it came fairly easily for me, I just didn’t see the point really, you know.
In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala. That was the first time I was surrounded by Spanish for more than 2 hours at a time.
It was so neat to be able to understand what people were saying (or at least get the sorta-kinda gist of their conversations) and to be able to speak to them in my broken, sprinkled with mistakes, Spanish.
And that’s when I decided. I decided I want to be fluent. Almost 3 years later, no hablo con fluidez, but that’s okay, I’m still working towards it.
It scared me at first; actually, it still scares me, that’s something I’m working on. I’m too worried about messing it up and sometimes I miss opportunities, but that’s another story.
El verano pasado, I had the privilege to be able to take a second trip down to Guatemala..and use that Spanish I had been working on. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
It scared me at first; actually, it still scares me, I’m a bit of a perfectionist so messing anything up kind of bothers me, so I’m learning that sometimes, you just have to dive in head first and go for it.
In one town we worked, we built chicken coops for two families. Porque I spoke the most Spanish of the group who went down, I was the one who was sent on walks to la tienda with someone to get food for lunch or other various things.
The things we talked about weren’t really of much importance. Hablamos del tiempo y tal cosas. I asked if the ladies I saw were haciendo tortillas para venderse. They asked what part of the US I was from. Those conversations weren’t deep or profound, but they meant a lot to me, they built Spanish speaking confidence and made me remember how much I liked speaking it.
Those little walks stretched me—I was so worried about messing up, but you know what, they didn’t mind if I mixed up a feminine or masculine article every now and then. They appreciated anyone’s efforts to speak any Spanish to them. And were excited when someone spoke just enough to engage in some decent small talk.
I was able to connect with the people who spoke absolutely no English. Can people connect even with a language barrier? Absolutely. But there is just something so special about being able to converse with someone in their native idioma.
I was able to laugh at at a joke while riding in the back of a truck. I was able to ask questions about a store, I was able to order at a restaurant. I was able to give other people in our group rough translations.
Oh—and funny story, in the Guatemala City airport, as we were going through security one of the employees (a Guatemalan man) asked me, “Is this your bag?” to which I responded:
“Sí, es nuestra.”
“Oh! ¿Hablas español?”
“Sí, yes, I mean, no. Well, English is better.”
After getting over how awkward that was, I realized how cool it was. I was in “Spanish mode” and forgot to switch back to English. That was the first time I ever really spoke without thinking at all. I want to be able to do that, all the time. To be able to Just hear something and just switch over to español effortlessly. That’s bilingualism.
And that’s the goal.