My head is throbbing, my eyes are tired and my tongue feels heavy in my mouth. I hear my name called in the lilting accent I’ve come to love – “peepa”. I glance up at my teacher who’s looking at me patiently, and kindly as always. She repeats the question. Subconsciously I squeeze my hand into a fist as if this is going to enhance my listening abilities. Expectant silence fills my ears as I sluggishly try to process what she said , first in Spanish and then in English. A trickle of relief runs down my spine – I know this! I start to reply, my voice soft and tentative as if I’m asking a question rather than giving an answer. I try to say a word but realise it’s in the wrong tense, so try again – but this time I’ve conjugated it to the wrong pronoun. Finally I get it right. One word down! Now just the rest of the sentence to go.
Enrolling in a language course in Mexico was one of the smartest decisions we’ve ever made. During the few days we spent in Oaxaca prior to our course starting we felt reasonably confident about our language abilities. We could ask for directions, order food and tell people where we were from. We knew we had a long way to go before we achieved our goal of conversational fluency but we were happy that we could get by.
By the end of our first class we had been well and truly bought back to the land of reality. By the end of our first week we were feeling thoroughly discouraged and thoughts of giving up had definitely flitted through our minds in the early hours of the morning as we lay awake going over the verb conjugations we’d learnt that day. During the second week I cried twice, and by the third week our brains felt so full we were sure that we couldn’t possibly fit anything else in. The fourth week passed in a blur, interspersed with occasional outbursts of frustration and a lot of coffee consumption. Now we’ve just finished our fifth and final week (we survived!!).
We’re pretty exhausted, and definitely ready to have a break from structured learning for a while. We’re going to head down to the coast and spend some time reading something other than vocabulary lists, and listening to music rather than Spanish podcasts.
We’ve both been surprised by how hard language learning is! I realise that sounds stupid when you look at it like that – but it really is so hard! Just when you think you’re getting it, you learn that there’s a different tense you should be using, or another grammatical rule that you previously didn’t know, and then of course there are the irregular verbs…don’t even get me started on verb conjugations.
We actually struggle through daily interactions more than we did when we first arrive because now we know when we’re saying something incorrectly – and we have more vocabulary to get mixed up. Then there are the times when we occasionally burst into Spanglish without even realising it.
So, yeah language learning sucks.
We did have a pretty language school though – and being in an outdoor classroom was the best!
We also had fantastic teachers!