When I am talking to friends and family back home they all want to know how my Spanish skills are going. I’ve decided that it is time for me to shed a little light on how Spanish works in Peace Corps Dominican Republic, my Spanish skills, and the Spanish language in general.
To start, Peace Corps Dominican Republic is pretty good at teaching Spanish language. Spanish speaking host countries don’t have as intensive a language training as other sites, because it is assumed that all of the volunteers are coming in with some Spanish skills. The assumption is made, but that isn’t the reality. In my training group we had native speakers, speakers who didn’t know how to say “water” in Spanish, and everybody in between. I fell toward the lower end of the speaking level. Peace Corps ranks us on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being native speaker. I came in at a two.
I had taken Spanish in elementary school, middle school, and college and by the end of each year I was able to introduce myself and say my favorite color… verde. I think the American system needs to reevaluate it’s public language education, but that is probably a story for another day.
Once I arrived in the Dominican Republic I was placed in class with other 2’s and spent 3 or 4 hours a day in class for the first 2 ½ months. I was given a language exam at the end of training and the start of my service… I was a four point five. I know that is progress, but it felt desperate.
Recently I went to an In Service Language Training, ISLT with everybody else in my sector that wasn’t a 7 by the time we swore in. That was nice, because I was able to see my friends, but it also showed me how little my Spanish had grown in 6 months. I was in class with one of the girls that started our service as a one. That girls studied so hard during her service that she was an eight by the time we went to language training.
I knew my skills weren’t growing as fast as some of my friends. I was in awe of how much they knew. I was aware that part of this was because I spent all of my time in my house avoiding one particular person, but it all just felt like an excise.
Now that I am in my new site I have spent a lot of time studying. I search for handouts on the Internet and have come across many middle and high school teachers’ Spanish skills websites. They have handouts that I use to study morning and night and I hope my skills are going to get better. I tend to pick a verb tense everyday and focus on it until I feel like moving on to another. Hopefully soon I will be able to focus on some combined tenses. Maybe that is what Harry Potter is for. I try to read a few pages of Harry Potter in Spanish when I feel like my head is too full of studying. This is nice because I am studying, but I feel like I am taking a break.
A lot of my new found studying comes from the realization that my time here is almost over. I don’t know when I will again have the opportunity to live and speak with native Spanish speakers. I want to come out of here fluent in a second language. I want to speak well enough to pass the language on to my children. Language is an invaluable skill.
It’s funny though, because my new site is full of Haitian people who are often also using Spanish as a second language. We are all walking around, not sure if we are speaking correctly, but using this language we aren’t confident it to communicate with each other.
A few notes about Spanish.
1. Pronouns are frustrating.
2. Verbs are frustrating.
3. Language is frustrating.
4. Nouns are English.
5. Communication is wonderful .
So this is my life. I study, fail, and study again.