Why is it taking Chrissy so long to finish Spanish?

March 28, 2017
 Imagine being able to understand the majority of what is being said, but still missing the inside jokes or the quieter quick comments and slang terms being tossed around. Imagine learning one way to say something and then realizing that of course there are endless other ways to say that same thing. These are some of the things in Spanish I'm pushing to progress in. Spanish is a fully developed very big language and it has not been an easy task to get as far as I have. It seems like the more I learn the more holes I see and the more areas I realize I need to work on. But I think this is just the way language learning is.

Several times we have been asked why it's taking me so long to learn Spanish, so for those of you who are unfamiliar with language learning I thought I'd take a minute to explain what's going on with my Spanish studies. Our mission tests those of us currently in Spanish and Culture study based on three levels. Basic, Progressing and Capable. Technically there is a fourth level called Proficient, but it will take most of us the rest of our lives to get there and we probably still won't. So within the three levels we break them down further into tiers, low, mid and high. The couples who are planning to go to a tribal location are required to test out at capable mid for the men and capable low for mothers.  Spanish is spoken throughout the mountains, although it varies in dialect a bit and depending on which tribal location you go to and how isolated it is, many of the indigenous people will only speak their tribal language.. or they may be able to speak Spanish only well enough to buy and sell goods.

The men and women also have different requirements during Spanish study. The men are required to get in 44 hours of study each week, and the mothers are required 27. Don was able to test out at capable mid almost a year ago! We were very relieved and excited for him to finish. He worked hard, especially in the last few months to get to his required level.

It's been a different story for me. I have had times where I was able to put a lot of energy and focus into Spanish, but then have had to take large chunks of time out of Spanish study because of having two children during our time here. Ruth was born 5 months after we arrived here. At the time she was born I had just barely gotten started and was not yet at a conversational level. If you've ever been pregnant, experienced the brain fog that comes with pregnancy or postpartum recovery or sleep deprivation you might understand how it would be difficult to get language to stick in a brain after that. :) But still, amazingly after the fog cleared after Ruth's birth and newborn stage I was able to get back into Spanish and somehow advanced to the conversational level.

Eli was born here as well, and thankfully the early part of that pregnancy was not too bad and I was able to continue studying until a month or so before he was born when I felt my brain was pretty much broken. The recovery and adjustment to three children has not been easy for any of us. The c section this time around was more difficult to recover from, the kids have all taken turns not sleeping well and adjusting in their own ways to having a new family member and less of mommy's attention. I reached a new level of exhaustion I've never experienced before which honestly has made even speaking english difficult at times (just ask Don..hehe). Then this spring Don was able to make a bunch of trips with our truck to help a lot of the other missionaries on the field with different projects and hauling loads etc. There was a good two months where he was constantly leaving and coming back which made it nearly impossible for me to get much Spanish in. We were glad to be able help and give him a chance to serve in those ways though. Then we had a bout of sickness which with a family of 5 really takes some time to get through. So FINALLY 5 months after Eli was born we are getting back into a new rhythm of life and feeling more or less energised and ready to push on.  The girls are sleeping well, and Eli has started to sleep all night some nights without waking. If he keeps that up it could be the main thing I need to get my brain back to full capacity.

Our awesome friend and Spanish teacher, Paty. Loves teaching Spanish and helping us with our crazy babies during class.

We keep being asked when we are moving to the tribe and or when we are going on a furlough.  That all depends on when I get tested out. I was tested in September to find that I am in Progressing high, which is just one level away from where I can test out. We have literally drawn out a flow chart on our white board to decide how we will proceed depending on how the next few months of Spanish go for me.  It's hard to make firm plans not knowing when I'll get tested out. Right now we are hoping that as I am now back into full time Spanish study that I will regain any ground I lost in the last few months and be able to progress to the necessary level by the end of May. This might be unrealistic, but it's the current goal/hope.

Since we have partnered with co-workers who don't speak english, we will be using Spanish constantly with them. It is very important that I am able to speak at a comfortable level with them. There is tons more I will be able to learn and improve on in my Spanish after I test out, Don and I will be learning this language for the rest of our lives. I'm sure we will improve in our Spanish even as we are learning the tribal language, since we will be communicating with our co-workers in Spanish all the time. I'll be thrilled to arrive at capable low knowing I'll be at a place where I can have deeper and more meaningful conversation with my sweet friend and co-worker Erendira as well as some of the other Mexican ladies that live around the village.  It's a relieving thought to know that capable low is a more comfortable place to be in Spanish where I won't be battling so much to get my thoughts out.

I am currently working on 'cleaning up' my Spanish which will help me make that jump into capable low. This means working on speaking about hypothetical situations ("If I were you, I would have gone to the beach" or "If I had slept better last night, I would be speaking better Spanish today"), using the subjunctive and past subjunctive tenses comfortably, and forming more complete and detailed paragraphs when I tell stories or relay experiences.  I am also working to clean up areas of my Spanish where I may (or may not) be saying everything grammatically correct, but in a very gringo way. It's easy to just translate word for word how we would say something in English, but if you want to sound like a natural Spanish speaker, you need to try to learn to say things the way a Mexican would. For a small example I could say "Could I have a number 4 combo with a sweet tea?" and that would make sense, but not be a very Mexican way to order. Instead it would be better to say something like "Bring me/Give me a number four in combo with a sweet tea, please."

I hope this helped clarify why it's important for me to continue in my studies, and why it has taken me this long (2.5 years so far!) to get here! So please pray for me that I would remain motivated and that the fog from my brain will continue to clear so I can get to the level required of me in Spanish, and SOON!  Even when I do arrive at that level I am prepared to be doing battle with this language for the rest of my life. We are so ready and excited to move on out to the tribe and be with our co-workers and get to know the Guarijío people! We appreciate so much all the prayer and support our team back home has given to get us to this point.

My good friend Lluvia who has helped me so much with my Spanish and been a huge encouragement to me.



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