Monday, July 30, 2012

Improving Upon the Silence

"Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary, does it improve upon the silence?" 

I can hear everything around me, but I can't understand it all.  I understand every fourth word.  Try reading every fourth page of a book.  That is how much I understand what is going on around me.

Ever met a person from a different country and they didn't speak good English and it frustrated you?  Or you assumed they were less smart because they didn't speak good English?  I am that person.  I sound dumb when I speak in Spanish.  It doesn't matter how eloquently I say something, it is not understood.  So I just don't talk.

So next time you bump into someone that doesn't speak good English, think of me, please and be nice to and patient with them.

You Americans, turn on the television to the Telemundo station.  Now leave it on all day.  That is my world.  Or better yet, find a Spanish speaking station on the radio and put ear phones in and every times you go to a public place and talk to someone, put in the headphones and try to get your answer.  That is my world right now.

My new most commonly used term is "como se dice...?" Which means, "how do you say....?"  Davis and Bryan have also mastered this phrase. 

I have to pay attention to different things.  Facial expressions, context, body language, images on road signs, etc.  I have to trust maps and the taxi drivers.  And I have to hope and pray that the bus that has my street name on it actually stops there. I have to assume that where the person pointed is where I need to go.  I have to trust my instincts. 

But I'm afraid.   I'm afraid of my instincts.  I am afraid of messing up when I speak.   I want to be good at everything I do all the time.  And language is different.  You can't learn a language overnight.  You can't be good at it quickly.  You can't learn a language in 3 weeks.  You can't crash study the night before.  You have to work for it, practice it, try and try and try and mess up and fail and succeed and keep trying and keep working and nobody cares if you fail or succeed but you.  Just like freakin' life.

Bryan and Davis are different.  They aren't afraid of messing up.  They aren't afraid of looking dumb.  I wish I had this in me like them.  This challenge cuts to the very core of my being and what I "think" is important:  Always have something to say.  Always be the best.  Always know what is going on.  Always be smart.  Always win.  Always be the go-to person.  

Nope.  Not now.  Not here.  Spanish wins.  And I lose until I learn, not beat, Spanish.

This is the hardest part.  This.  Spanish.  This is what stops me from progressing quickly, but it is also what keeps me going.  This is just another challenge.  I knew this was coming and I am eager to learn.  I just hired a private tutor.  He will teach me for two hours a day, three days a week for three months and maybe more if I can afford it.  We shall see.

So I am and I will and I can.  This is possible.  I'm not special!  Millions of people, with way less support and resources have learned new languages in new countries.

In the meantime, I am learning to listen more closely to people and the world.  To listen more closely to the sounds of the city and of nature and to take in sights and nuances like I never have before.  And this is a beautiful and new feeling that I can only assumes comes with being an adult.  I guess it's time!  I'm not in control.  Listening is beautiful.  Through this understanding, I am reminded of the goodness that can exist without me trying to make it happen.


  1. Peru is really the best place to learn because you are covered up in Spanish all the time! I used to watched Law and Order SVU in English with Subtitles at home just to hear some English (and pretend that I was learning from the subtitles). I promise that soon you will start to understand what people are saying and then one day words will come to you. Like a bolt of lightning from the sky! It's an amazing feeling. All the sudden you can communicate!

  2. Thanks, Hallie. I think you're right. I have been doing the same thing with House on TV... I'm ready for that bolt of lightning!

  3. I love this post! I have been speaking spanish for years and I definitely "listen" better in spanish than I do english. I tune out all the time in english. I wish I listened in english as well as I do in spanish.