Tag Archives: spanish

A Day in the Life of a Spanish Import…

I begin my day usually with the sound of clinking dishes, pouring water and hearing-impaired television seeping in through my window. I wake up, get dressed and head to class. I take the train because, sadly, I have yet to master the art of telepathic bus riding, as the stops saunter by unannounced. Not a bad tradeoff, though, as I’ve never waited more than three minutes for a train, something every Chicagoan would deem a miracle. A coffee, however, might cost you as much as four whole minutes to perfect.

A half hour and a sixty cent café amb llet later, I am in Economics class. It took eighteen months to get here but I am here. In Barcelona. Finally.

Let me tell you about Spain…The women are golden and curly haired, the men are dark and handsome. Moped riders are almost evenly split between genders, suit-cladden and otherwise, and it seems an almost unwritten law that every home deserves a balcony.  Every morning, the streets are sprayed with water to clean the previous day’s debris at just about the same time the Spaniards return from a night out. These people love to socialize and I am finding it more and more alluring to take the afternoon nap in an effort to keep up with them.

It isn’t out of the ordinary to see some light love making on the beach, nor walk home from Mercadona with a two foot long fuet sausage gently poking out of your bag. It isn’t out of the ordinary to stop what you’re doing at any time for a coffee break, or to hear lions groaning during all hours of class in Ciutadella…another comical reminder that you are not in Kansas anymore. It is strange to be in a hurry here. The Spanish stride is one of observance and existentialism, to put it delicately. Pedestrians of all ages and size stroll the avignudas and carrers gingerly and without a sense of time – tolerable on a Sunday, infuriating on a Monday.

Like most other European cities, alcohol is cheaper than water and a bakery is always within 100 yards. My diet of pan y vino is treating me well so far, but I fear I will need a real salad soon. Does Protein Bar deliver? Dinner before ten simple isn’t Spanish, but my American stomach doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. Snacking is vital.

After a whole day of classes and studying in the Dipòsit de les Aigüesa renovated labrynth of arches designed by Josep Fontserè and calculated by Antoni Gaudi, I head home. Students, couples and tourists accompany me on the commute and I begin to feel like I fit in. Even if its just a little.

Tomorrow is another day. And in Spain that means more tapas, more wine, and more animals roaring to the drone of economic theory.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

…would smell as sweet.” Romeo & Juliet.

Shakespeare was right in that no matter what we are called by others or what we choose to call ourselves, neither affects who or what we really are. That doesn’t seem to stop us, though, with good and bad name calling.

As humans, we are constantly identifying ourselves. Whether it be by our race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, profession, hobby — whatever — we love picking out details about ourselves that we can use to define us. These characteristics make us a part of smaller, special societies, thereby showing our uniqueness in a world of 7 billion people.

I’ve only been in Barcelona for three days and already I’ve been given three new titles. Names that I never thought to call myself but nonetheless, they are accurate and they’re growing on me.

“¡Hablas español bien!

I’ve studied Spanish for over ten years. You’d think I wouldn’t be so nervous to speak with the locals, but alas, my terrible American accent makes me gun shy. However, from years of grammar drills, flashcards, essays and what have you, I do know a lot of vocabulary and can form coherent sentences pretty quickly.

This was said by a Hispanic girl at my hostel. She came into the room and asked a general question out of friendliness, to which I responded in Spanish. She asked where I was from and after I answered, “Los Estados Unidos”, she said that I spoke Spanish very well. Her tone was excited and impressed. Mine was surprised.

Even after years of study, two trips to Hispanic countries and numerous language exchange partners, I still had never thought of myself as a good Spanish speaker. I’ve never called myself fluent nor do I refer to my years of study to anyone unless specifically prompted. I see fluency as the point in which the speaker no longer has to mentally translate each word and my mind is still constantly running during a conversation. I’ve even read that the real turning point in language acquisition is when one starts dreaming in the second (or third) language.

Sadly, this has not happened to me yet.

But that doesn’t mean I should shortchange my abilities just because I’m self conscious. I can read. I can write. I can speak. Puedo hacer todos. I should start acting like it.

“You are all colleagues of each other.”

This may not seem like much, but I had previously only used this term to describe people I worked with. I had thought this phrase only applied to employment settings, so I only used it to describe coworkers.

In general, the academic consensus is that a “colleague” is an associate. Someone with whom you work in the same profession, department or staff. But profession does not implicitly imply a status of employment. “A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training.” A teacher during our courses this week used that phrase to remind us that we are all professionals and colleagues amongst each other. Simply studying the subject at length makes one a professional.

I felt elated and yet a bit confused. This was obviously a compliment but I felt I had not earned it yet. She saw differently. I had to reconcile that I was still a professional regardless of whether or not I have job.

“You’re not a good scientist if you try to agree with everyone to avoid criticism.”

Scientist?! There’s a word I’d never thought of to describe myself. A faculty member this morning said that to be a good social scientist, one must pick a side. A social scientist. She was addressing us as scientists. I couldn’t believe it.

With each new title, I felt more and more confident. They all seemed to infer a certain amount of respect, I thought. In a matter of 72 hours, I had become a professional, bilingual, social scientist. What more could I want? Courage? Conviction?

Even if I don’t believe I can speak well, that doesn’t mean I don’t. Even if I see myself as unqualified that doesn’t mean I’m not. And just because I call myself a student doesn’t mean I’m not a scientist.

Moral of the story: Never undercut yourself or assume the worst. Labels are only good if they help you grow in positive direction, not hold you back.

With so many new hats to wear, who knows if I’ll have time to have a social life. (I’m sure my parents would be happy to know that.)

Who knows what I will become next.

“The world is mine oyster.”


A close AmeriCorps friend from college once said to me, “I chose it [Alaska] because I knew it would be difficult and I knew I would be uncomfortable at first, but if I’m not uncomfortable, I’m not growing.”

Last night, I attended a conversation meetup at my old language school in Logan Square. It felt maravilloso to speak Spanish again! I felt myself grow more confident with each sentence and really enjoyed the other students. It was also a great reminder that you have to push yourself and more importantly, put yourself in seemingly uncomfortable situations in order to grow and improve as a person.

I love Spanish. I love all Latin cultures, actually – European and American. But more than that, I love languages in general. If I could give myself any super power, it would be to be a polyglot.

Thus begins the third part of my slogan:

“Glossophilia is a love of language, either foreign or native. The term refers to people with a love for language and the structure of language. Glossophiles also dedicate themselves to the learning of foreign languages and intensely study as many languages as possible.”

I was lucky enough to start foreign language training when I was in 5th grade, something rare in the U.S., but have yet to reach a level of fluency I would be proud of. In America, it can definitely be an English desert if you want it to be. We’re not forced to speak anything else and we’re such a large country, that you have to be on a border to even be fully aware that there is another country, with another language just over yonder, so yes, the traffic signs and currency will be different. Where a Frenchman can drive 3-4 hours and be eating pasta in Italy and parla italiano, or being skiing in Switzerland and spricht Deutsch, I can drive 4 hours from Chicago and go to Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, all states that predominantly speak English. Again, there are a lot of immigrants in the major metropolitan areas, but you will never get the full “immersion” experience if you live in and are surrounded my English speaking regions (And yes, I’m counting Canada there).

So what to do then?

I have always been jealous of my peers who grew up in a bilingual household. Their conversation skills just seemed to flow so instinctively, like there was a whole other secret society I was not privy to, but wanted so desperately to be a part of. I had to study more and try harder to find people to practice with, but I loved it. Self-discipline really is the key to learning any new skill.

I’ve studied Spanish for over 10 years, Italian for over 2 years and briefly attempted Polish one summer. I love all of them. I would love to try Turkish, Farsi, Portuguese, Russian…and the list would go on and on. Sadly, though I pick up on foreign languages more easily than the average person, I have neither the time nor resources to fully commit to all of my aspirations. It’s always better to pick one rather than spread yourself too thin, right?

So for now, sólo español.

– – – – –

*Some food for thought for those other glossophiles out there when choosing a new language to try: