Language learning is obviously a critical element of the work we will be doing in Costa Rica. Without the language we cannot communicate. And most of what we do is communication. So I'm sure some people are wondering how my 8 month investment in intensive language learning went. Can I speak Spanish? Admit it, you know you were wondering that. So let me unpack the answer for you a little bit here by comparing where I came from to where I am today.
When we arrived in Costa Rica...
- None of the 3 of us Browns (it's easy to forget there were only 3 of us when we got here) had any ability to speak Spanish.
- We lived off of our Spanish-speaking friends to interpret for us.
- I knew very few words and didn't pronounce them well.
- I sat in church services picking up a few words here and there that were similar to French and thus at times understanding the title or big overarching theme but really understanding none of the substance of the service. My friend and youth pastor at my church would give me the quick 1 minute recap after service.
- I would get into a cab, say the destination to the best of my ability and hope for the best. I even had to call a Spanish-speaking friend once to tell the taxi driver where to take me.
- I would hope that store clerks wouldn't ask me a question.
- I tried to use as much English as I could with the teachers at language school.
Now, 8 months later...
- The 3 of us Browns (Jonah still doesn't speak anything) all speak Spanish to some degree. Genevieve is fluent for a 3 year old according to every tico who knows her, I can carry a conversation pretty well and Polly (who is a trimester behind me due to Jonah's birth) has taken huge strides in her ability to communicate lately.
- We are the Spanish-speaking friends who interpret for the new language school students.
- I know a LOT more words and pronounce them better...at least well enough that I'm generally understood without having to repeat myself.
- I sit in church services and miss a few words here and there but understand almost all of it, now having the ability to take notes. I interpreted the service for a new student a couple weeks ago and gave the quick recap after service.
- I use complete sentences to tell the taxi driver where I'm going, can give further explanation if they don't know the destination and at times even just direct them along the way.
- I ask store clerks questions.
- I look forward to using my Spanish with teachers and locals.
So, am I fluent?
No. I'm far from perfect and have a long way to go. But I can hold conversations with people, ask and answer complex questions and even do an interview for a local online newspaper. Say what? That's right. My first ever Spanish quote has been documented in this article. Of course, I didn't have the opportunity Genevieve had to meet and hold a Spanish conversation with the president, but then again, she's more fluent than I am. Don't believe me? Check this story out:
We left Jonah's blanket at the hotel in Panama back in March. They still had it so I went to the desk to pick it up last week. On the way, I realized that I couldn't remember the word for blanket. Thankfully Genevieve was with me. "Hey Genevieve, how do you say 'blanket' in Spanish?" Genevieve, without hesitation, replies, "Cobija." Naturally, she was right.