Eso es alcanzar lo más alto,

lo que tal vez nos dará el Cielo:

no admiraciones ni victorias

sino sencillamente ser admitidos

como parte de una Realidad innegable,

como las piedras y los árboles.

Jorge Luis Borges

Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923)

This is the best that can happen,

What heaven perhaps will grant us:

Not to be wondered at or required

To succeed

But simply to be let in

As part of an undeniable Reality,

Like stones of the road, like trees.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ups and downs of language immersion

I was talking with a friend yesterday who had moved to Canada 15 years ago and began learning English from scratch while living there.  She mentioned that her language learning was filled with inclines where she could learn new material, and plateaus where her brain couldn't absorb anything else and she was forced just to use and integrate the language she already had, regardless of how painful it could be.  This was good to hear because at school I keep cramming more grammar structures into my brain, and am currently working on the subjunctive which is very common in Spanish.  It's something like when we say in English "I wish I knew".  But it seems like the more I try to cram into my brain, the more falls out.  And so at this point I'm stuck just trying to use what I know, regardless of how frustrating it can be.  Take for example the verbs "ser" and "estar" which both mean "to be" but are not interchangeable.  Each one has two forms in the past tense (preterito and imperfecto) which also are not interchangeable, so when I want to say "I was..." I am stuck trying to remember which one of the four verbs (fui? era? estuve? estaba?) I should use.  My mac has that little spiral spinning thing that lets me know when it's overloaded and can't process any more.  I'm pretty sure my glazed-over eyes give the same signal to people when I just don't understand or can't communicate what I'm trying to say.

The other thing is that I have days where I can have interesting conversations in Spanish (for example friday evening with a guatemalteco who's a friend of mine here) for hours at a time, and then it's like my brain is completely used up and I can't remember how to say, "good morning" at the breakfast table the next day.

Other little things also get on my nerves.  Like when another gringo who has lived in central america for 5 years says something in Spanish that is obviously more fluent than mine and everyone here is so impressed with how intelligent this person is, I feel like beating their heads together.  But I think that might go against the MCC mission of peace.  So instead I smile and meekly agree.

On the other hand, I feel completely free of malaria or whatever it was that left me a feverish mess for four weeks.  I know I lost a lot of motivation during that time but that's another story.  I'm trying to think of a nice uplifting wrap up to this post but I can't really.  Just waiting and looking forward to the next bunch of changes that will be happening in about 2 weeks.


  1. Lynden,

    Being a mac nerd myself I totally got this picture of your face with two eyes covered by the spinning beach ball of death. Thanks for that image! I am with you on the language learning front. I think I'm about a three-year old now in both Spanish and Plautdietsch.

  2. Yeah, I think some days I must be quite the sight! I don't envy you at all learning 2 languages, my brain is fried as it is with just the one. But right now I've got two weeks "free" because I won't have time to take any more exams, so I'm just going to ask to learn "voz" because hardly anyone here uses "tu". Good luck in your studies!

  3. I can totally feel for you Lynden. The other day someone spoke to me in English and I just drew a blank...couldn't understand what she said, then she thought I was Spanish and started rattling off in fast Spanish and I just wanted to run away. But the good days make it all worth it.
    enjoy your "free"time.