WHEN I first came to Madrid, I spoke little Castellano. Very little. Sure, I had picked up some vocabulary here and there- mostly via pop culture. You know, the hasta la vistas and so forth. Having lived in California, I was bound to hear some south-of-the-border chatter. It´s impossible not to. For those of you learning a second language: I hear your moans, I feel your pains, I can taste your anxiety! For those of you who have so much to say, and not the words to say it. For those of you brave enough to submit yourself to the utter embarrassment that comes with not only learning a second language, but actually using it. This is for you. You are not alone.
It was Christmas, 2015. I was in the fancy supermarket (it´s Christmas, after all) doing some last-minute food shopping. Like you do here in Spain, I wanted to order some ham from the deli counter. The woman, of whom I had the deepest sympathies for, looked rather disheveled. The remnants of a busy day were surrounding her. Bacon trimmings, plastic wrap gone awry, russian salad drops, squished pickled onions, chorizo chaos, and of course…ham. It being Christmas, I went for the bad boy- the top shelf. After about 30 seconds of fumbling my way through the numbers, I pointed to the serrano I wanted and smiled, portraying what I´m sure was a rather grotesque display of delight and need. I was just trying to communicate. A look of understanding flickered through her eyes, and we were on our way. Success! Oh the thrills of communicating! It can be so exhilarating-not having made a fool of yourself AND getting what you want. Glorious.
But wait. Now she is holding out a slice over the counter. What am I supposed to do with this? I did what I thought was best, and I snatched it up and gobbled it down- showing my approval in a series of over-the-top facial expressions that could (and maybe should) have been taken for something rather serious. I thanked her immensely for this display of comraderie, practically bowing at the counter. I felt so special. Well done me. That glorious feeling lasted only but a minute, for her thunderous look soon clouded over my picnic of pride and ham. She was not happy with me. But why? Confused and slightly wounded, I Charlie-Browned out of there, ham in hand.
I asked my Spanish friend later what I had done wrong. Apparently the sample was not a sample at all, but for me to check the thickness of the slice.
Why would such a minor incident have had so much of an effect on me? Because it happens all the time. The highs and lows of learning a language are extreme. From exhilaration (giving correct directions to a stranger on the streetcorner) to sheer embarrassment. The other day on the train a man asked:
¨Sí! Un poco.¨
Oh dear, I´ve done it again…
While the extents and extremes of embarrassment are cultural- they are still universal. No matter how intense. We all feel a bit stupid when learning a new language. But fear not!
We can do this…together. Ham and all.
Uncomfortable? No worries. As English teachers here at The Language Corner, we know all about the difficulties of learning a second language (we´ve done it ourselves!) Studies show that confidence can greatly affect your progress in language-learning. We strive to lower the affective filter*, allowing you to fully capitalize on your potential. Exam preparation, entertaining classes for children, adult conversation classes- whatever you are looking for- our staff are native and knowledgeable. We love to tell a joke and explain why it´s funny. In such a big city like Madrid, @TheLangCorner is your place for a little TLC.
* The Affective Filter is the term Stephen Krashen has used to refer to the complex of negative emotional and motivational factors that may interfere with the reception and processing of comprehensible input. Such factors include: anxiety, self-consciousness, boredom, annoyance, alienation, and so forth. www.focalskills.info/about-fs/low-affective-filter.html