Spanish Got Your Tongue?




It’s my first week in México and language is already biting my tongue. As a person who learned English and Spanish together while growing up, I’ve always had some kind of fluency in both. However, after 17–almost 18–years in the United States, and with the privilege to obtain a public education along with the pursuit of a higher education, you kind of get used to 90% of the things around you being in English. Without frequent exposure to other languages, It becomes the language of that little voice in your head. The language you turn your papers in. The signs you read as you drive (or walk) in public areas. Arriving in México, 99% of that changes, and you have to adjust quickly, or you may end up on the wrong side of the street or eating something you quite didn’t understand the nature of (not that that’s always a bad thing).

Thankfully, I speak Spanish pretty fluently. I grew up in a Spanish household, but as always, when I walked out my front door my brain would quickly switch to English subconsciously. This limited the amount of Spanish I was exposed to, and though I can hold a conversation in Spanish and understand most of what you convey to me in this language, there are some grammar rules, foreign jargin (to me), and vocabulary I still struggle with. My classes don’t begin until tomorrow, but throughout my daily activities I already feel that I am being tested.

Before coming, my family noted that everyone in México City is going to notice that I’m not from there simply by the accent of my Spanish. I never considered that until I was told this. This comment has made me become more aware of how I enunciate my Spanish and has prompted me to pay more attention to the accents I hear in the city. As far as the vocabulary, at one point, I found myself google translating in the grocery store to ask for a certain medication. Frustrated by not being sure about the correct vocabulary, I had the courage to ask anyway and be corrected by the employee. Honestly, I think it’s a lot more valuable to learn from someone directly in the community you’re in, rather than dwelling on a translator that may fail you. I know this won’t always be the case and translators can still be helpful, but as a Spanish speaker who wants to develop her Spanish, exposure and vulnerability serve me well.

Side note: I ziplined for the first time today in Toluca. I had no idea the word for a zipline was “tirolesa”. So if I were to drive by an advertisement for a tirolesa prior to this experience, I probably would have never thought twice about what it meant. At least I am able to understand the part that says “the zipline is not responsible for any accident”.

Please enjoy the clip above of me experiencing probably one of the most exhilarating and worth-it activities in my life. The cool thing about screams is that you don’t need to know a language to understand what they are.

I won’t lie, as a Méxican Citizen who grew up in the United States, language is something that I feel can alienate me during my time here in México. Like I said, I consider myself fluent in Spanish, but being here has been a reality check that there’s a lot I can learn. I say learn, and not improve, because language is a flexible tool. There are many versions of Spanish, as well as accents, unofficial vocabulary (and slang), and much more. I don’t think there is one correct way to dominate it, because a simple shift in my location, whether it is a continent, a country, or even a state, will present itself with a whole new set of rules. My tongue holds small pockets of fear that it won’t find the right word or the right tone. But with that fear there is a stronger sentiment of optimism that I can use my time here to grow from the people I connect with and the environments I am exposed to.