This Letter is to You

Dear Teacher, Colleague, Post Office Worker, Telephone Operator, Secretary, Woman at the tienda, Waiter at the café and Mr. Bus Driver,

This letter is to you, and anyone who has ever worked with, waited for or felt impatient with someone learning a second language.

Please know that I am trying, I am, I promise, but learning a second language is hard. My mind is often swimming between the word I know and the word I want to say, and often spanglish is the result. I know the word for “bread” (pan) and the word for “crumbs” (pedacito) but I don’t know how to ask the person stocking the aisle at the grocery store where I can find bread crumbs. Instead “pan de crumbs” is what I say. Your confused look doesn’t help. Be patient, please. Ask me a question to clarify. Or explain it again. When I ask you how much something costs, writing it down or showing me the price (Q 670) is much much better than just rattling off “seiscientos setenta.

Learning a second language has the ability to make you feel oh, about  this small. I have a post-college degree but I often feel like a 3rd grader when I say the wrong thing or confuse two words. I mean, miedo and mierda sound similar, right? Trust me they are easy to mix-up! (and if you don’t know what those words mean, look them up. True story. I switched them once and embarrassed my director and myself).

Confusion and regret become regular feelings. Sometimes I tend to focus on the one word I don’t know because I know I’ve heard it before, but I can’t remember for the life of me what it means. Other times I understand what is being said, but the context doesn’t make sense.  And jokes are the worst. It never feels fun when everyone is laughing, because it’s hard to tell if they are laughing at the joke or at you.

There are a still of things I don’t understand: Verbs tenses that I say incorrectly, phrases that I use out of context, and cultural references that still don’t make sense. And I will probably continue to ask frequent questions, but your answers and explanations are ever so helpful.

Speaking slowly and clearly makes a world of difference, speaking loudly does not. I know I sound different when I speak your language, but when you encourage me and say “tu hablas muy bien” or “tu espanol esta mejorando” I feel like I can keep learning. And please, do correct me. I want to be corrected, but just not in front of other people. When I feel nervous or stressed I speak worse and make lots of mistakes, but when you are patient and friendly I feel like I could talk for hours.

Thank you for being patient and not staring at me too long when I say something that makes absolutely no sense.


Someone Slowly Learning a Second Language


Share this:

5 thoughts on “This Letter is to You

  1. What great insight into learning a second language, and a good reminder for those of us here who come across people everyday who are learning English.

    I hope you are well Michelle!

  2. Michelle, What a great essay. I can commiserate with you completely. Learning a second language is a slow, tedious process (especially for an old goat like me) but so rewarding.
    I think that in today’s ever shrinking world, there is no excuse to be mono-lingual. I cringe ever time I hear stories of the gringo who thinks everyone should learn English only. Someday that gringo may be surprised if Spanish becomes the dominant language spoken in North America. Buena Suerta!
    Ciao, David

  3. Thanks for warm wishes Lesley. Yes, I am well doing well. I am excited for you guys and your new house and new baby!

    David, yes indeed! I think all US born kids should be bi-lingual. I read a fascinating article about how Chinese is going to become the number one “foreign language” for US kids to study in school one day. Interesting, huh?

  4. You basically just described MY LIFE. I swear, I feel everything you do, as stongly as you do. I have apologized for my children being too “rubios” (instead of “ruidos”) and I have said “mi nueva ramera” instead of “remera”. Not sure if in Guat “ramera” means prostitute, but here it does. Nice life. I especially hate the blank stares, especially before I open my mouth. And the resaying of the same-exact-thing in a louder voice with the same-exact-speed. I’m with you, friend. And I’m SO sorry about the miedo/mierda… Maybe they ARE the same thing??? 🙂

  5. Oh, Krista. I wish Argentina and Guatemala were within a days bus ride. We could speak Spanglish all day and drink vino y platicar. Tal vez, un dia….Love to you and the fam!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *