Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Power Of Communication

     I can't believe it's been a month since I last blogged. Time here in Spain is a strange thing. It seems to pass slowly, especially during the lazy, warm hours of siesta. But at the same time, this morning I woke up and realized that I have less than two months left in this paradise. Spring has finally arrived, the days are 70 degrees and sunny. Each day after school, I lay by the river, soaking up the sun until lunch. We've been spending late afternoons in the park or drinking chai lattes in a cafe or taking advantage of 3 euro movie nights. These are all things that the locals here do as well, so I guess I've finally made this place my second home. I'll go home to the United States with a piece of Seville in my heart. When I'm sitting in class next semester on a dreary day, I know that I'll be wishing for the Spanish sun. I belong to two places.

     Since I went to Amsterdam, I've been to Cordoba twice, Granada, Cadiz, and Malaga. The highlight of all of this was seeing Carla, my precious Venezuelan friend. Carla studied at my high school two years ago. She came to America without knowing any English. Over the school year, we became best friends. Without her example, I probably wouldn't be sitting here typing this right now. I think she probably gave me a little bit of her courage. It's hard to learn a new language, much more difficult than I first imagined. It doesn't come easily. I've found it frustrating at times to have such little command of the Spanish language when writing. In English, I can write a complex, meaningful sentence without any thought, and even with all of my attention, I can't reproduce the same thing in Spanish. Have I improved since I came here with NO knowledge of Spanish? Absolutely. Can I effectively communicate with those around me? Yes. Am I fluent? Close to it. Will I be bilingual by the time I leave? Absolutely not. In CLIC, my international school, there are 6 basic levels of learning languages (this goes for all European languages.) I started in level A1-- beginner-- which according to the CEFR means that I "can understand and use basic phrases, introduce myself, and interact in a simple way." I'm now in the 4th level, B2-- upper intermediate-- which means I "can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in a field of specialization, can interact with a degree of fluency that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party," and I "can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options." And the last level, C2, means that you interact like a native speaker.  These guidelines of language learning have really changed my perspective. I used to think that you either speak a language or you don't. But it's much more complicated than that. You can be fluent in a language, but not bilingual. In fact, it would take years and years of study and immersion for me to call myself "bilingual." I'm not perfect when I speak Spanish, I make mistakes, but I can communicate. This will serve me well wherever I may be, in Little Rock or Latin America. And when Carla came to visit, I was the one who was speaking a new language. It was really interesting the way that we communicated, I would say a sentence in Spanish and throw in an English word or two. She would say something in half English, half Spanish. It was completely chaotic, but it was effective. Anyone else listening to us would have been lost, but we understood each other better than we ever have before. A Venezuelan. An American. In Spain. Speaking each other's language with southern accents. And it's all worth it, a thousand times over.

     There's a girl from Ecuador in my English class that I help to teach once a week in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Seville. She speaks very little English, so our conversations are always in Spanish. Our worlds are nothing alike and without this new language, they would have never collided. Today, we bonded over music. There we were, walking down the street, listening to Romeo Santos, and laughing like old friends. You know what? We're not so different after all. 

We're not so different after all.

Until next time,