So it’s been three weeks already that I’ve been living in Sucre, Bolivia. The city has definitely turned out to be the ideal spot for learning Spanish. There are tons of schools and home-stay options. Almost every foreigner I meet here is taking Spanish lessons. The city also seems to have this magical quality of trapping people here. It’s not uncommon to find someone who came here for a few days, but ended up staying a few weeks.
My lessons are coming along quite well I think. The school is setup in this old building with lots of little rooms that the classes are taught in. I’d say almost every student is taking private lessons since it’s so cheap… around $6 per hour. I’ve had a different teacher each week, and they all instruct in spanish only. It’s interesting when there’s a new word I don’t know because instead of just telling me the word in english, they describe what it is in spanish until I get it. For example, the word “llave” was taught by telling me “you need this to open a door that is closed but you can’t open”. Sledgehammer fits the description, but I correctly assumed my teacher meant “key”. I even started taking my notes in Spanish to complete the classroom immersion. I get the sense my teachers speak english, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what level they’re at since we always speak in spanish.
As for my home-stay, that’s going pretty well too. I have my own room and have settled into a daily routine. I even took all my clothes out of my backpack and put them into the dresser drawers I now have…
I eat meals with the family, and even tag along for outings to the market. The mother, Rocio, speaks slowly when she talks with me, and we have lots of conversations about food and cultural differences between the US and Bolivia. I think I need a bit more fluency in my spanish before I can talk with the dad, Luis. He’s kind of quiet, and doesn’t say too much to me. As for the kids, they’re cool, but the six year old speaks a bit fast, and uses “kid’s spanish” which often involves sticking “ita” or “ito” to the end of words to emphasize how small something is. However, in the last couple days, I’m starting to understand her more. She definitely understands everything I say which I feel good about. As for the four year old, Pablito, I almost never understand him, but that’s understandable. He sounds like any other four year old to me. I made dinner for the family this past Saturday… tacos and guacamole… it was a huge hit and I think will become a staple in the household. Here’s a shot of the meal with Pablito.
I realized after I published my last blog post that I forgot to mention the grandma living in the home. She’s Rocio’s mom, and unfortunately, I never understand her either. I’ve always heard from people learning English they have trouble understanding older speakers, and I’m no exception. Hopefully in time, I’ll understand more, but for now, I’m left constantly saying “pardon” when ever she speaks to me.
There has been an interesting development this week in the family home. A couple from France has moved in and is also taking lessons at the same school as me. They’re spanish is a lot better than mine as they’ve had other lessons recently and have been traveling in South America longer than me. I have to admit, I’m a little envious of their ability to carry on pretty much regular conversations with the family. Although, it’s good listening practice for me, I don’t always know what’s being said, and feel left out. I also feel like a bit of an idiot when a question comes my way and I need it repeated once or twice before I understand. That’s part of the learning process I guess, though.
So overall, how’s it going? I have good days and bad, but overall, my vocabulary and ability to communicate have increased greatly in three weeks. I’d say my vocabulary has at least tripled, but it needs to triple again before I have enough words for everyday speech. My listening comprehension has taken off as well, but sadly my ability to speak hasn’t kept pace. I still have a very robotic way of talking. I have moments where my speech flows, but normally, my brain needs to do a lot of work to construct each sentence. The gender of the nouns and adjectives, the plurality of the articles, and the correct conjugation of the verb add up to a big equation that needs calculated every time I speak. There are moments where it comes together automatically, and I feel like I get a glimpse of what it will be like to speak fluently. But those moments are definitely not the norm… yet. My immediate goal right now is to ramp on verbs and verb conjugation. I’m hoping when I reach the six week mark to be at a beginning level of fluency and carrying on normal conversations with the family. We’ll see… ciao