Friday, October 9, 2009

como se dice...

Mr. Lipstick and I are getting ready to head to Peru for our international no-baby trip of '09. We made a deal when we got engaged that we would leave the country once a year until we had babies. aka- a no baby trip. Our year-round school schedule is perfect for this plan. So far, so good. The first year took us to Ireland for a friend's wedding (where a leprechaun stole the memory card of my camera), the second year took us to Switzerland where I met my Swiss cousins, and this year Mr. Lipstick decided he wanted to go somewhere that would allow us to use our Spanish.

"Our Spanish" as though we have some to call our own.

I started taking Spanish in 8th grade and continued until my sophomore year of college. 7 years of hard studying and I can ask where the bathroom is, tell a kindergartner to keep their hands to themselves, put their eyes on me, and that their work is very good. Not in actual sentences, mind you, or with proper grammar, but I find that being very expressive with ones hands makes up for any oral miscommunication. Right?

So I'm not really comfortable with this idea of "using our Spanish". I've done just fine in countries where I didn't speak the language- Greece, China, Italy, Switzerland. I've learned the basic survival words, relied on hand-motions, and kept a translation guide nearby. Now that I'm going to a country where I have a 7 year history of speaking their language I'm a little nervous. I'm convinced we'll be nodding along happily with a native speaker, thinking we know exactly what they are saying, and before we know it we'll be on a bus to some random town and our passports will be gone.

(I'm an expert at imagining the worst possible situations. It's my super power. I try to keep it quiet as much as possible, but sometimes it slips out. I'll make my own child miserable one day.)

So to prepare for this language immersion I've set my GPS to the Spanish settings. I've tried reading novels in Spanish and spent parent/teacher conferences listening very carefully to see what I can pick up. (not much- I am screwed.)

I also tried to convince the children I teach to teach me everything they know. I took advantage of our afternoon dramatic play center to get them to teach me Spanish. This did not go so well. Little Carlos yelling, "caliente!" when he ironed the clothes on his own body was about as far as I got. The children are not all Spanish speakers so the poor Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, and English speakers just wanted to get on with play- stop the boring vocabulary lesson.

And the children who did speak Spanish were kind of confused with why I'd want to learn it anyway. After all, they were working so hard to speak English, why was I repeating the words they were saying? And, as anyone who works with 5 year olds knows, they are not the pinnacle of perfect diction. Especially if they have actually been diagnosed with a Speech/Language impairment. So yes, I am headed off to Peru clueless that I may be saying words with a stutter or a lisp- thinking I'm pronouncing it just like Carlos taught me.

On top of this I am just not a strong auditory learner. My auditory memory and auditory discrimination are pretty awful, so I spent a lot of time sipping imaginary tea in dramatic play pronouncing Spanish words only to have the children glance nervously at each other, then repeat the word again, not knowing if I was correcting their diction, or if they should correct me. I was, after all, the teacher- how did they know I wasn't trying to teach them to speak in Spanish. And how does one, at 5, correct a teacher when the teacher is butchering their native language?

So, the language lessons in dramatic play failed, and I'll be getting on a plane tomorrow to plunge into using a language I may or may not speak with a lisp, incorrect grammar, and large hand gestures. They're going to think I have my own special needs. Perhaps I will pretend I don't know this "our Spanish" of which Mr. Lipstick speaks...


Sarah said...

You'll be fine! I'm betting that once you open your mouth to speak the few words you know, they'll realize you speak English and want to practice their English with you... then you'll be off the hook ;)

Kirsten said...

Don't worry, once they hear your Spanish, they will ask you in perfect English if you speak any English. :-)

This is the perfect opportunity to learn, so relax, listen carefully, and resort to English if you have to.

Good luck. Buena Suerta!