Time: 1994. I’m taking my oral exams in Spanish, and I complete a conversation with my teacher. I don’t recall what we discussed, except that she brought up the movie Total Recall more than one would expect.
This was the last hurdle before I would be done with my required Spanish classes to get my degree in English Education. I could check off the box, and finally focus on what I really need to know in life.
You know, such as that first chapter of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.
I use that, like, every day.
Anyway. I don’t remember much about that exam, but I do remember this:
“Nancy,” my teacher paused, and wiped her glasses on her scarf. “Your Spanish grammar is very good. But your accent! It makes my ears bleed!”
It’s true. And now, living in Spain, it is barely getting better. I speak Spanish very quickly. My logic is that by smashing the words together, nobody will notice how terribly I pronounce them.
It hasn’t been terribly successful. “Nancy,” says my present Spanish teacher. “Why you rush? Slow down and say the words normal.”
“Vale,” I say. But the insecure part of me thinks, “I don’t want people to laugh at me.”
“Who do you think you’re speaking with? A bunch of French people?” my husband asks. And it’s true. Unlike other countries, where you must speak perfectly, the Spanish people as a whole are generous with my attempts to speak and learn. From the fruit stand guy who helps me say, “carrot” every week to the lifeguard at the pool beaming when my youngest musters out a “Hasta Luego,” they are kind, lovely people.
So, this is about me fighting my perfectionism. The voice of the oppressor, that perfectionism.
I’m trying to rush a process that just. takes. time. And in order to do that, I have to stop racing through the words.
I must speak slowly. Honestly. And own my emerging accent and my increasing understanding.
Last night, my friend Maria, a native speaker, told me that my Spanish was really coming along. I floated on those words, because when you’re in the middle of learning a new language, it’s hard to see any growth. It’s easy to see (and hear) what you still don’t know.
Especially when you’re rushing.
No mas. I will pour out my Spanish, slow and easy, like chocolate. I will taste the sweetness of each syllable. And I will do it every day