I’m in a Spanish-speaking country, but where has all my Spanish gone?
Before even looking at this week’s prompt, I found myself noticing something about the Spanish here in Buenos Aires: to me, it truly seems like a foreign tongue. This city is notorious for having a Castellano accent that is particular to only their region of Argentina. But what has seemed incredibly odd to me is the physical transfer of the sound waves of what I hear in cafés and on the streets into my ear… it is not my native language. And I have been exposed to Spanish before, but always in a classroom setting. Finally placing myself in an area where it completely and totally surrounds me has made it sound so unfamiliar despite my knowledge of the language. Moving past this strange realization of finding myself in exotica
has been difficult.
In the classroom, I am a confident Spanish student, always eager to learn new grammatical concepts and more vocabulary. Interacting with the locals here, however, I revert to complete shyness and instantly freeze up despite my years of education in the language. I can think in my head in excellent form exactly what I want to say, but more than often it does not come out the way it should. Simple quips I’ve got down, for example, “How much does this cost?” or “can we have the bill, please?”, etc. But having formal conversation makes me blatantly American; usually the instant someone tries to talk to me I have to respond with, “¿como?
” (“what?”) and they say either, “oh, am I talking too fast for you?” or the classic, “so, where are you from?” It can be frustrating at times, because my general pattern is I finally understand them a couple of seconds after my initial response of confusion, but at that point it’s too late. I took the picture above in San Telmo (a beautiful barrio
here) where on Sundays there is a giant artisan market, called the Feria de San Pedro Telmo
. The abovementioned example of a normal conversation for me occurred a lot there, with my attempted haggling skills. I’m here to improve my Spanish, and I know it’s going to take time, but the hope I have for myself is seriously waning. But supposedly patience is a virtue…
I’ve been here for almost two full weeks now, and I hope that being in a Spanish class again as well as exploring the city more will help me accept Spanish as not so foreign. The trouble with second languages is, when they are new, it’s hard to be able to listen and understand what is being said in that tongue. It is natural to try and translate it in one’s head to a native language and go from there. This is the biggest challenge for me, and I can’t wait to get to the point where I hear it and understand it just as it is.
So in this exotica
, I find myself fascinated with certain aspects of the culture and daily life, but the language is nothing new, yet it seems entirely new. As de Botton mentioned in regards to his trip to Amsterdam, “exoticism is located in particular areas” (67). And language should not be one of them for me, yet communicating inevitably is.