(This was written a few months after my arrival in Peru)
I didn’t like speaking in Spanish.
It was no fun for me to sit there mute while the conversation swirled around me. For me, the extended silences I was forced into meant that people probably did think I was a dummy. Of course, when I finally opened my mouth, they would strain to understand what I was saying. Or worse. What I intended to say was completely unintelligible and all I got was a puzzled look.
People Probably Thought I was a Dummy
“You ARE a dummy,” I said to myself. “It’s just that most Peruvians are too polite to say that to you.”
The next time, I thought, I’ll just keep my mouth shut and listen in silence. That way I won’t make any mistakes. I’ll just sit there like a bump on a log. No more humiliation.
Meanwhile, my thoughts were complex. I had so many things I wanted to say. Unfortunately, the words I had at my command were no better than the babblings of a two year old child. I was dying to express myself.
Everyday Events Were an Irritating Challenge
Everyday events became an irritating challenge. When the phone rang, I dreaded picking it up. Sometimes I would get in a taxi and wind up in the wrong place. Or I would order food in a restaurant, and the waiter would bring something else. All this happened, I thought, just because they didn’t understand what I said.
These were my feelings a few months after I arrived in Peru. I went into a funk. I would grind my teeth while listening to an incomprehensible conversation. Then I would retreat to watching the news in English or an American TV program.
I began to believe that Spanish was my enemy. Irrational, yes. But I wanted to focus my frustration somewhere.
Was Spanish my enemy?
Then one day I woke up. I was shaving and looking at myself in the mirror when I thought” you’ve got this Spanish thing all wrong.” Spanish is NOT my enemy, it is my FRIEND. It is the key to a new kingdom. I can enter a new culture, make new friends, and learn things that were not available to me before.
With this realization, something inside me relaxed. Instead of continually fighting a hostile force, I change. I was at peace. As a friend, Spanish could come into my life and help me.
I had this all wrong
I now understood that the stress and anger I felt previously was a barrier to my learning. When those feelings left, I began to open up and make real progress. I started talking to taxi drivers, reading the newspapers, and watching television in Spanish. IO also enrolled in an intensive Spanish course.
With this new attitude, I made real progress.
Now people understand what I say and I understand them I made a big effort and in turn I have learned a lot. I’ll never be perfect and that’s OK. I’m enjoying my life.
Now I’m enjoying my life
I have used this wisdom in my work. I teach Business English at a university in Lima. I suspect that my students feel the same way about English that I did about Spanish. So during the first class, I write on the board in big letters “ENGLISH IS MY FRIEND”.