Yes, I speak Spanish every day. Yes, I use it in a business and personal context. Yes, I feel muy cómoda switching to Spanish unexpectedly.
So, why do I feel like my Spanish skills have stagnated?
When I find myself explaining how to get past “the learning plateau” to a tutoring client, I am always reminded of my own relationship to the Spanish language. My job is to help others overcome that period during a course, test preparation, or language acquisition in which things start to feel boring and impossible. With continued effort, things will naturally move in an upward direction again. Sometimes, I feel guilty that I don’t make the time to apply this philosophy to my own life.
As my son’s Spanish vocabulary está fomentando exponentially, mine is barely surviving. I pick up slang vocabulary from the few Spanish-speaking friends I have, and take note of words that I knew but forgot every time I see them written on a sign or in a book. Still, I often wish I had the time/motivation to read and listen to more Spanish. Informal talk radio and conversations that I overhear can help, but they don’t offer the range of syntax to which I would like to be exposed.
Invariably, after each exchange in Spanish – even just a quick answer to my son or an unimportant text message – I think of a “better” way to say what I just said. Maybe it’s my perfectionist streak, but I am constantly criticizing my conscious and unconscious choices. Admittedly, I do this in English too, but only for more permanent things (such as every blog post I write!) and in a much less anxious manner.
Along with a stressful level of self-critique, bilingualism compounds envy. I am jealous of all the people I know who can so effortlessly transition from one language to the other in any context, when I only have that luxury about half the time. While I know that those who are bilingual from birth also have to face the dynamism of language, I wonder what it feels like to have words just fall out of one’s mouth instead of having to endure a lengthy consultation (and sometimes negotiation) with the brain first.
If it were anything other than speaking Spanish, I would likely have given up by now. But as parents, you all understand as well as I do that children make us question our assumptions about pretty much everything. Communication is such an essential part of parenting, and sometimes, having to think about what I say before I say it is a gift. It provides a mirror unlike any other. My exact word choice, in either language, directly affects my son’s reaction. Every parent should be so lucky as to be forced to pause during every parent-child interaction and think:
¿Cómo lo debo decir?