One of my colleagues spends her workday assisting students with their writing. She posted the following picture on her site a few days ago. As a wanna-be writer, I must remember the message, but as an aspiring tri-lingual, it is a not-so-friendly reminder that I have a long way to go before I am a good writer in another language. Selecting just the right word is probably a task for those who are in the advanced level of proficiency. For now, I am happy when I correctly use the imperfect tense and can distinguish the difference between “I like myself a lot” and “me, I like it a lot,” which in Spanish is the difference between “me gusto,” and “me gusta.”
This week I have been seeking out opportunities to use Spanish. I had an efficient conversation today with my server at a Mexican restaurant. He greeted me in English, I answered in Spanish, and then he just switched over to Spanish, speaking to me naturally, and just like that it was no big deal. In the past, when I have attempted to speak with servers as a novice speaker, they slowed down their speech and spoke to me in the fragmented Spanish usually reserved for children. This time, I knew what I needed to say, I asked some questions, gave a compliment, and we completed the transaction of food and money. It was exciting to have someone converse with me in another language without my face flushing from embarrassment.
In China, my experience has been that if I use any Chinese words correctly beyond “Ni Hao,” I am met with accolades typically reserved for those who summit Mount Everest. Although times are changing, the number of mei guo rens (Americans) who can speak Chinese is still fairly low. The down side of this enthusiastic support is that we are infrequently corrected when we use the wrong tone. I become self-conscious because I assume that I am butchering their language while they politely nod.
The opposite is true in France. God love ’em, they are proud of their language, and quite rightfully so. Not that the Chinese are not proud of their language, but the French have no qualms about helpfully pointing out any errors of pronunciation or grammar. Some say this is because they themselves were relegated to hours of drills to speak French correctly. Why can’t we endure a few moments of repetition? When I speak in French with a French person whom I don’t know very well, I am aware that their ears are bleeding because I am butchering their language (okay, maybe not butchering, but not perfect) and I become self-conscious.
I know that many Americans speak Spanish as their second language, and perhaps that is why my conversation today was void of insecurity and bleeding. If that is how it is going to be, I like my relationship with Spanish already. In fact, I think that it will be VERY enjoyable indeed!