So, I have been in Spain for nearly a year now. In that time I have managed to do something rather extraordinary--I have not learned a single new word in Spanish. Not. One. Word.
I was, however, in the course of this year, able do something even more incredible. I am, right now, in the process of unlearning English.
Why You Always Lyin'?
How did this happen? Well, I'll tell you. For starters, I was hired to work as an English teacher in an elementary school. The students were told that I didn't speak any Spanish and I was contractually obligated never to do so in their presence.
Not all the students believed me, however. On my first day, a munchkin with oversized green eyes looked deep into mine and told me that he was on to me. He informed me that he was well aware that I spoke a little Spanish because he heard me talking to one of the adults earlier.
From that moment on, I communicated almost exclusively in English, lest he or another student walk by and overhear. Was it overkill? Maybe. But any parent or teacher can attest that there is no brand of smugness stronger than that of a six-year-old who has been proven right.
The second obstacle to my fluency was my living situation. Despite my best efforts, to live with Spaniards, I ended living with almost all Americans. Though I loved (4/5) all of them dearly, living together didn't help me with Spanish.
Things weren't much better on the friendship front. There are hundreds if not thousands of Language students and English speaking students living in Madrid. Quite frankly, they can be rather difficult to avoid if one is not explicitly seeking to do so. In the end, nearly all of my friends were native English speakers or completely bilingual. And I was so exhausted from my daily life abroad, most of the time I found it easier to just speak in English.
Switching It Up
The only time I did have to speak Spanish was when I was dealing with some form of customer service or with the government. This presented me with a unique problem: Spaniards who wanted to practice their English. Often times, whenever someone heard my accent or a mistake I made, they would begin speaking in English or offer to do so. Sometimes, this is a relief, other times I found it incredibly annoying and counterproductive.
Despite these setbacks, I refuse to give in completely. I have chosen to give myself to another year here in order to master Spanish. In that time, I also hope to relearn English. Though I haven't been learning Spanish, I have been unlearning English.
Don't look at me like that.
Listen. There is a certain level of dissonance between listening almost entirely in one language and speaking in another. As a result, I have found that both my Spanish and my English are deteriorating and merging into Spanglish.
The most common evidence I've found for this is my overuse of the passive voice in English. As an English teacher, I understand that overusing the passive voice may lead to a lack of clarity--especially in regards to writing. This is more than a little problematic for me as I also make a living as a writer.
However, at the moment it cannot be helped. At my advanced beginner level of Spanish, I have a habit of breaking the number one rule of language learning--translating. Any language teacher worth their salt will tell you that you should never translate from one language to another.
That is an oft-repeated rule because it is so easily broken. As it stands, many direct translations from Spanish to English would be in the passive voice. As I spend nearly all day translating information in my head, it is not difficult to understand how this would affect my both my writing and my speech in my native tongue.
It is a habit that is hard to break. But it is one that I'll have to if I want to maintain a decent grasp on l either one. If not, I'll have to find a home in a place where Spanglish is the native tongue.