Ten ways a second language can make you look like an idiot

ways a second language can make you look like an idiot

In season six of Modern Family, crotchety old Jay and his Colombian wife, Gloria, are arguing over her son’s Spanish tutor. When it brings up a bigger issue—that Jay doesn’t understand how hard it is to always speak in a second language—Gloria snaps that she is very smart in Spanish. Seeing her point, Jay decides to give lessons a try. Later, when he apologizes to her (in Spanish), she hugs him and laughingly says, “Oh Jay how I love it, now you sound like the stupid one!”

I wish this wasn’t so right! Until you’re fluent, some of your personality and smarts are unavoidably lost in translation. There are just too many opportunities to look like an idiot.

Keep reading for ten tongue-in-cheek ways that learning a second language does you no favors.

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An American’s guide to yoga in Madrid

yoga in madrid

I’m not exaggerating when I say you can’t throw a rock in San Diego without hitting three yoga studios. I thought that because I knew some poses and had some Spanish under my belt, I could just pop into a yoga class like it was no big deal.

Um, not so much.

Depending on how seriously you “practice,” you could be in for a whole different experience.

If you’re an American interested in yoga in Madrid, keep reading for a few pointers on what to expect when you om in your new home.

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Spanish lessons from a former Bogotana

common expressions used in spain

I arrived in Colombia with only a handful of Spanish phrases at my disposal. While I knew it would take me a long time to be able to speak and comprehend fluidly, I received some very good advice about where to focus my energy: learn how to speak like the locals.

But, a language is a living thing. Even among countries that speak the same language accents and dialects are wildly different. It’s like an American saying they’re wearing pants to a Brit. The British person probably gets their meaning, but they’ll also be holding in a chuckle. That said, after a few sideways looks in Madrid I realized I had some linguistic housecleaning to do.

Keep reading for the words I had to leave behind in Bogotá and what to swap in to sound more like Spain.

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The lies you tell yourself before moving abroad

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When I tell people I live abroad, I know exactly what’s coming: a whimsical look in their eyes, a sigh, and something along the lines of oh that must be so nice…

I can’t deny that—our time living in Colombia has been incredible. But, it’s been a lot of other things too. Most people form their romanticized ideas of life abroad from pop culture and movies, where after you’re run off the road riding your bicycle in Ubud, Javier Bardem stops to rescue you and you tumble into mad, passionate, ’til-death-do-us-part love.

I drank the living abroad kool-aid too, thinking life in Bogotá would be an endless loop of idyllic experiences: days full of museums, coffee in quiet cafes, roaming outdoor markets. Even disasters—and they were always mild—would end up as quirky stories of how I made new friends or had some authentic (what does that even mean?) experience. I had no problem imagining us happy in our new life but, like all good daydreams, I skipped over the kinks to get right to the good part.

Read on for some of the lies I told myself before moving abroad.

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Learning Spanish, Part II: Practical Advice

learning spanish

Today’s post of advice about learning Spanish is what I set out to write last week. But, while compiling my list I realized it had become more of a treatise on the emotional and mental surprises that come along with immersion rather than anything technically applicable to the new speaker.

Now that that’s out of the way, keep scrolling for a few things that have helped this gringa habla español...

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Learning Spanish, Part I: How it feels

learning spanish

Learning a new language has given me a brand new compassion for screaming babies on airplanes. Of course they’re crying, it’s frustrating to want to get your point across but not have the words to do it. After six months of classes and a year of being immersed in the Spanish language, I’d say that I’m conversational but still far from fluent. In fact, the more I venture out conversationally, the more I realize I don’t have the words I need to articulate myself.

I don’t want to burst your bubble, but there are so many misconceptions about how easy it is to learn a new language. If you think that you speak Spanish because you took a few classes in college and did great with your slowly speaking professor in the hallway during an oral exam, you’re mistaken. Another misconception is that a module or two here and there with a language software program is enough to set you on the path to fluency. Sorry, that isn’t too realistic either.

Learning Spanish over this past year has been an emotional experience just as much as it has been mental. That said, this post about learning a new language is coming to you in two parts. Today, it’s all about the emotional speed bumps that caught me by surprise.

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