Mas o menos: More or less. In my opinion, this is one of the most useful Spanish phrases.
Learning a language through immersion is different than learning in a classroom. There are no breaks between lessons, no respite from the work. In fact, your very comfort and survival depends on every single word learned. To cope with this challenge, I have adopted the following techniques and attitudes to maintain my sanity and keep my stress level at a minimum, more or less.
Live with ambiguity. During my first two weeks in Mexico, I have tried to explain complex concepts like Climate Change and my former research in Endangered Species Management. I have verbally shared recipes. I have explained family history and told family stories. Did my conversation partners understand what I meant? More or less.
Trust others. Trust is huge when you can not completely understand the “who, what, where, when, or why” of many situations. Knowing that I will be safe with my host family is wonderful. Even better is the assurance that they will help me through a variety of settings, ranging between Sunday mass and a three-year-old’s birthday party. With them, I know that will act culturally appropriate, more or less.
Socialize frequently. I do not allow many silences at the dinner table, nor do I spend much time alone. When the opportunity arises, I practice practice practice. More common than not, my grammar is horrible and my definitions are less than direct, however I am losing the fear to communicate in another language, more or less.
Throw the dictionary to the curb. As easy as it is to look up a translation, the learning opportunity is greater when you to try explaining the word in the second language. This extra work helps transitioning your thoughts into the new language, and it allows more practice at speaking in whole sentences. The whole process feels great, more or less.
Using these techniques and attitudes, my Spanish communication and comprehension are tremendously better than they were only two weeks ago! And I am much more comfortable in a variety of settings, more or less.
Things currently making me smile:
- More than one gallon of salsa was consumed at a party with 40 guests. At the same party, per-capita lime consumption averaged 5 or more.
- We needed to learn the word “high five” in Spanish class – ¡choque los! – because we play so many fun games.
- Dreaming about my beautiful future work site.
- Wafting scents of corn tortillas warming on stovetops throughout the city.
- Spanglish is becoming the Lingua Franca of our training group.
- Pretty cacti and chilies in small pots in every other window in the historical city center.