So you’re going to Costa Rica. W00t! Heck yeah! You’re gonna meet some Ticos, eat some tasty food, go adventuring, and maybe even try a little salsa. Spanish? Sure, no prob. Maybe you took a couple semesters in high school, maybe even college. You’ll give it a good shot, and come out pretty much fluent.
The first few days, you do great! You talk to your taxi driver from the airport, you chat up your Tico family, and you speak Spanish in your class.
But here’s the thing, sometimes you feel stupid, like a child. Sometimes you’re just plain tired, and don’t have the mental energy to translate your thoughts into a conversation. Sometimes you’re so frustrated that you can’t communicate your basic needs or complex thoughts. Sometimes, you don’t want to speak Spanish.
Hey, that’s ok. Take a break. Call your family. Hang out with an English-speaking friend. Use your innate language skills to exactly express your intricate self.
But, don’t give up. When I was in Panama for five weeks staying with a Spanish-speaking family, I tried to express my frustration by saying something roughly along the lines of, “Estoy frustrada que no puedo hablar.” My fifteen-year-old host sister Lennie gave me some pretty great advice: “Poquito a poquito se llena la ollita.”
Little by little, the pot is filled.
It is hard to learn another language. You can’t get it all in one day, one week, or one month. But each day, you’ve just got to keep trying in little ways. When you’re frustrated, at least say hola to the folks you pass on the street. When you get home and you’re tired, at least say hola, comó esta? to your host family.
Yeah, there’s un montón that you don’t know. Just start by listening. Pick out a word that you don’t know, and ask what it means. You aren’t a little kid, but you are learning.
A friend of mine who studied in Argentina for five months told me, “Every time I have a conversation with a Spanish speaker, they’re my teacher. I know I’m going to come out of that conversation knowing something new.”