It’s mystifying to realize that only six weeks ago I was living the busy urban lifestyle in Berlin, and now I am watching the sun disappear behind a mountain, surrounded by the sounds of a forest in southern Chile.
With the change of lifestyle, the way in which I’m learning Spanish seems to be changing too.
Using a textbook and going to Spanish class is very much part of a busy city lifestyle. You have to find the discipline in yourself to go to lessons, learn your vocabulary and practice the grammar you learnt the week before, so you don’t embarrass yourself under the judging eyes of your teacher and co-pupils.
The way I am starting to learn and use Spanish here in South America matches the nomadic life we are living right now. Jimmy and I never know what is around the next corner. We are constantly adapting to new situations: be it the nightly task of finding a suitable place to pitch the tent, figuring out an alternate route, or having to cook a meal in the vestibule during a surprise sandstorm.
I am improvising much more — in life and in Spanish. I need to use Spanish to deal with basic everyday situations like shopping for supplies or responding to the string of questions from curious people we meet. The need for discipline has been replaced by the need to overcome daily obstacles, and to be honest, it’s a lot more fun this way. Communicating in Spanish has become another one of my survival tools along with my sleeping bag and water sack, and I wouldn’t leave home without it!
I’m finding learning to be less of a chore and more of a craving which propels me to find out more.
This doesn’t mean that my Spanish has become great overnight or that I suddenly understand everyone. Far from it! I still don’t understand a lot of conversations, which is at times quite frustrating, but I am becoming less shy and more active in my speaking, and this in turn is making me learn faster. I am no longer trying to recite phrases that I have learnt by heart nor am I getting hung up on sentence structure.
I realized how I was beginning to improvise when I met Lucia. I was curious and focused on finding out more about her, rather than worrying about making mistakes. Lucia had no preconceptions of my Spanish level, and couldn’t have cared less if I got my sentence structure wrong. I’ve come to realize that I am the only one who has expectations of my Spanish.
When I left those inhibitions and expectations at the door, I became a better learner and speaker. It sounds so obvious, but without changing my learning environment, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to get over that hurdle.
It boils down to the same lesson that Jimmy has been repeating from the beginning — stop giving a hoot, and just speak!