When we moved here a year and a half ago, we didn’t know any Spanish, we’ve enjoyed experiencing immersion for the first time, but there have been some difficulties along the way.
One of the best ways we find to deal with these kinds of difficulties is to tap into our sense of humor.
More reading: The Best Book to Learn Spanish
I’ve been told that it takes around four years to become really fluent in everyday conversation; we still have a long way to go. My husband and daughter have found immersion a little easier than I have, my husband is naturally more vocal than I am, and my daughter has a young fully absorbent mind. Because of this my sense of humor has had a better workout than theirs, so here are a few of the reasons I’ve “loved” the journey so far.
I love total immersion because…
1. …it brings me in tune with my basic instincts
All my response mechanisms become heightened. I follow every hand and facial gesture of each speaker, trying desperately to read the mood of my subject.
I instinctively pick up on the fine nuances of happy, or possible angry/annoyed vocal manifestations, so I can quickly contort my facial muscles into what is hopefully the correct response to whatever it is that they’ve been saying.
I sit in an intent, uptight position with every muscle flexed, taking on the characteristics of what might remind some of certain small nervous woodland creatures, squirrels or chipmunks perhaps.
This total mind/body workout is exhausting, and I know I’ve followed the program correctly when I stumble through my front door after a full day of immersion with that telltale headache, and bittersweet craving for my pillow.
2. …I love surprises (and where is a better place to be surprised than in a restaurant?)
I try to decipher the options on the menu, time and again, and then order what I think is a beef dish. Upon the initial taste test, I quickly realize that it’s not beef, it’s pork, or is it chicken? Surprise!
3. …being humiliated brings out the best in me
I stand in front of the clerk at the grocery store with a blank expression on my face because she just said something to me, and is now waiting for my response.
My ten year old daughter senses my hesitation and instantaneously responds to the clerk, then turns to me and graces me with a translation of the a fore mentioned undecipherable attempt at communication.
She makes sure to mix in a “this is so easy mom, don’t you get it?” tone, just to make sure the humiliation level has been sufficiently tweaked to her satisfaction. I smile and nod as the clerk so thoughtfully points in my daughter’s direction, giggling about the fact that my young daughter is more fluent than I am, and henceforth directs all questions/instructions to her.
As we return home and walk through the front door, I pass her the receipt and ask her to go balance the budget, she looks at me with a stunned look on her face “what?” she says. Too bad that clerk’s not there to see my little victory.
4. …it brings my relationship with my husband to a totally new level.
It has enabled me to absorb the sympathetic energy running from my husband’s heart through to his hands. He no longer has to utter a word.
After a full day of immersion-oriented errands, and various other social activities, he simply puts his hands on my shoulders, leans forward gently pressing his forehead to mine.
Then as I see that sympathetic half smile, half frown appear on his face, my tears begin to flow and I know we have achieved that zen-like state that can only be found during the early months of total immersion.
5. …of the “smile”
After about a year and a half into it, I find myself staring at newbie’s with that unavoidable “smile” plastered on my face, remembering how I felt when I was standing in those brand new squeaky shoes.
The smile comes as I relive past awkwardness, and relax into the reality that those days are over (well almost 🙂 ).
6. …of the “shock”
The shock also comes after about a year and a half. I’ll be going over a recent conversation in my mind, remembering the details and directions with ease, and then the “shock” hits me as I realize that the conversation took place totally in Spanish!
I experience a little sense of exhilaration, and I’m ready to ask where the bathroom is again, the next time I’m at that cafe.
7. …the more the new language takes over the worse my spelling and grammar become in my native tongue.
8. …it’s one of those buddy experiences.
I think it’s called “total immersion”, because when you are totally immersed, let’s say in water, you might panic a bit and feel like you’re drowning.
But after awhile you realize (perhaps subconsciously, because you’re drowning) that if you can just reach that guy next to you, grab on tight and relax, letting them do all the work, soon enough you’ll get the general idea and be O.K.
So remember “never go total immersion-ing on your own, always immersion with a buddy.” Everything’s better with a buddy.
9. …it’s like an extreme sport for people that don’t like extreme sports.
Your mind, lips, tongue and teeth are always set to peak performance, while you are constantly aware that at any minute you could crash and burn right in the middle of a sentence. (Also the risk of death is much, much lower.)
If you’re thinking about trying total immersion, or if you’re in the midst of it, on the bad days (you will have them) take heart and know that we’ve been there too. And take a minute to jot down a funny take on your frustration, so you can share it with us on this post.