Back home, when I introduce myself to Spanish-speakers, my first line to them is “Hola, soy Maritza y yo hablo español. Pero mi español es malo y limitado.” This phrase was my warning to any Spanish-speakers of my limited, and often times horrible, bilingual skills. Looking back at it now, it shows to me just how little in confidence in my Spanish I had. If I had such little confidence, then the person to whom I’m speaking with must have an even lower level of confidence in me.
After studying Spanish in Spain and constantly communicating with native Spanish Speakers, I’ve gained more confidence in my skills enough to change my introduction; “Hola! Me llamo Maritza y yo hablo español. Mucho gusto!” Thanks to my house-mom, Carmen, and my professors I am able to communicate my thoughts and emotions and opinions more effectively than I was able to before. They taught me how to say specific sentences or phrases I was struggling with, while improving my vocabulary, by politely correcting me and showing me alternative phrasal expressions.
Carmen was the very first Spanish speaker in Spain with whom I had a full conversation with. She listened to me, didn’t judge me, and encouraged me to continue talking with her. My professors on the other hand, spoke clearly and slowly in the beginning. Now, they can talk in their regular tempo and ease, and I am still able to understand them. This threw off in the beginning because I worried that I would be so behind compared to my peers to be able to understand Spanish completely.
There were bumps in the road along the way. There were times where I couldn’t understand an expression or word that Carmen had said, and I would get lost mid-conversation. Or my professors would speak too fast for my understanding. The relief came in their ability to describe or define their ideas, completely in Spanish, effectively to the point where I can understand what they are trying to convey.
I’ve learned to use this technique at times where I was not able to properly convey a phrase or word, or if I wanted to learn a word for something. I’ve learned to be able to describe something in Spanish, or with the help of bodily gestures, to help my intended audience understand what I’m talking about. At first it was easier to ask for help because I had house-brothers who were more advanced in Spanish than me that can help me communicate with Carmen, but when they left I had to improve myself. I used Google Translate to help remember common phrases or words, and constantly asked my professors how to say certain things. I used my resources that were given to me.
On another note, my professors are very influential on my receptiveness to Spanish culture. They are the windows into the Spanish society and customs in the classroom, and I feel more prepared when I go out in public to stores and restaurants. For example, my professors will give recommendations on places to visit and things to do. My group and I will go to their recommendations and not be disappointed. We went to Valencia per our professors recommendation and spent the time to explore a beautiful city. I admire this aspect of leadership from my professors, because it shows that they truly want us to explore to their beautiful country and that they provide help outside of the class as well as in. This has taught me to go above and beyond when it comes to helping others and want to do more than just the bare minimum.