One of the hardest things about the past three months has been the language. Yes, I started taking Spanish in 2nd grade; yes, I took three years of Spanish in high school, and yes, another year in college. Nevertheless, before coming here, I was still very nervous about not being able to communicate. And yes, it was a challenge.
Castellano is a sort of dialect of Spanish that is only spoken in Buenos Aires (people will ask me “hablas castellano?” instead of “hablas español?”). With Castellano, the double ll’s are pronounced with a “sh” sound, so “ella” is pronounced “eh-sha,” and the “y” sounds a bit like a j, so “yo” is more like “jo.” Second, instead of the “tú,” porteños use “vos,” and so verbs are conjugated somewhat differently in the informal you form. For the most part, these pronunciations and conjugations have become natural for me — I don’t even think about them anymore. And then there’s lunfardo — a set of slang words (although they’re also used in formal circumstances) that are unique to Buenos Aires. Finally, people here generally speak fast, and generally have a strong accent.
Given all of that, I did have some trouble understanding others and speaking myself when I got here. I had sort of assumed that I would simply become fluent just by being here for such an extended period of time — as if my brain would automatically absorb the language. Needless to say, that hasn’t quite happened. It’s frighteningly easy to surround yourself with other Americans, English television and books, and to not put any effort into language classes. Any progress takes conscious effort, and unfortunately I think I realized that a bit late.
That being said, I have made A LOT of progress — especially thanks to the second Spanish class I took, which was one-on-one with the teacher for two hours a day, five times a week, for four weeks. But I’m still not fluent — true fluency is a lot harder to achieve than many people realize; I’m sure a lot of Americans know the Spanish word for “door,” but how many know the word for “knob,” or “hinge,” or “keyhole”?. Nevertheless I certainly intend to keep studying until I am.
I had always wondered if people who spoke a second language had dreams in that language. While I’ve been here I have had dreams in which I try to speak Spanish in the same non-fluent way I do in real life…I guess that sort of counts!
My accent has improved a great deal while I’ve been here, and I can read (both to myself and out loud) quite smoothly. In fact, I’ve gotten so used to being surrounded by Spanish, that sometimes I don’t automatically realize if something is English or Spanish. Before, it was as if I has to turn on my Spanish mode; now it just happens automatically. At the same time, I always get a little shocked to hear English spoken in the streets.