My conversational Spanish is definitely lopsided. As I stumble through what I hope will be a reasonable statement, my baffled listeners strain to make sense out of what I am saying. As long as no one responds with more than two words, we proceed with this one-sided dialogue— monologue. Unfortunately, if a confused listener actually attempts to reply, all pretense of a two-way conversation grinds to a halt. Although I speak with halting insecurity I must confess that my listening skills fail to reach even this low bar of competence.
All of this started about six months ago when I decided to master Spanish, a language both of my parents spoke well but did not pass on to me. Yes, I took Spanish in high school and then again in college. I blame my lack of success on the fact that classes did not teach conversationalSpanish. Although we studied verb conjugation, we did not actually say anything. Therefore, blame for my former lack of fluency lies squarely at the feet of my instructors. With total confidence, I plunged into teaching myself.
Sitting alone on my sofa, I make reasonably good progress. Only when I attempt an actual conversation do challenges deflate me. If only people would speak more slowly, I might do better. If only they would reply within the scope of my vocabulary, I’m certain of success. For example, recently, I asked a young woman if she wanted a can of pinto beans. I expected a “Si, gracias” reply. Imagine my confusion when she wanted to tell me that people from her native country grow pinto beans. Since I did not know the Spanish word, “país” (for country), this conversation did not go far. I could not help noticing that each time she repeated the sentence, her voice got louder. Interesting.
It does not help much that at the time I launched into Español, I also decided to learn sign language. With great frustration, I sometimes find myself knowing some words of a sentence in Spanish and others in sign. Occasionally, I lapse into combining the two simultaneously, which thoroughly confuses my conversation partners.
At a time when an English word sometimes slips mysteriously from my brain, I probably should have focused on clinging to my disappearing English vocabulary instead of adding words in a different language. You may conclude that I am discouraged. Nope! Not a bit. Those unfortunate people who happen to engage with me in one of my new languages seem quite discouraged but I continue to gladly muddle along.
Considering my inadequate listening comprehension, I have decided that the time has come for a new plan of action. I think I should start providing a script suggesting which words to use when replying to one of my comments. In addition, I will recommend speaking slowly. I’m certain that success lies just around the bend in the road.