Necessito una Maestra Simpatica

Seven months ago, I desired full immersion in a Spanish speaking society in order to use my knowledge, albeit elementary, of the language so that I could both perfect my use and spread the message of Christ. Well, I did get my desire, but not as I thought I would have it. Isn’t that how God usually works?

Instead, in beginning my masters program in Curriculum and Instruction, I am taking a Special Topics in Bilingual Education and the course – I’m laughing in the circumstance as I write this – is completely in Spanish. Oh, Kristel, you mean the instructions are in Spanish. No, I mean exactly that plus completing all of our assignments, tests, forum discussions, diary, and I’m pretty much guessing that will include speeches too, in Español. I believe the experience is supposed to really let us live what it is like to learn in a language that is not your own.

I was kind of shocked at my reaction when learning of this minuscule detail. My typical response would involve me furtively searching for an “un-enroll me” button on the Blackboard site, e-mailing the professor of this gargantuan mistake, pressing the “return this purchase” for the book I got off Amazon.com, anything to avoid the sheer embarrassment that will befall me when I make my first Spanish speaking/writing/reading/interpreting gaffe. Instead, I actually welcome the challenge. I feel that yes, it will be quite arduous, but so would going to a country and having nothing else to rely on but what has been stored in the recesses of memory. At least this way, God has given me access to translation services and using the skill I know best: escribir.

Neighbors: Follow Through

I’ve had two successes with my neighbor project since my last post, but I’m hesitant to blog about them.  I don’t want to get to that point where I start to believe that my success has been all me, and I don’t want my readers to believe that about me either.  However, I still would like to share my experiences.

About a week ago, my husband and I were outside with all our kids, enjoying the sunshine and semi-cool weather (it was probably 90 degrees, but in Texas that is cool).  There were two little kids, a girl and a boy, that looked like they were my son’s age.  My husband wandered up the street and began talking to their mom.  I don’t know how he does it – no two minute argument with himself about whether he should go up there and introduce himself – no, he just goes.  Anyway, since he self-initiated, I took it as my opportunity to introduce myself to someone else on our street and as an opportunity to have some material to talk about later!  She was originally from the area, had moved away, and then came back because of the school district – the same reason we moved here; it is highly recognized.  Her children were three year old twins; like I had guessed, the same age as my son.  Yes, I had the previous excitement as I had had before – envisions of birthday parties, same game events to attend, maybe a prom date in my son’s future.  We had a great introductory talk and commiserated about the sugar ants that invade our houses when it is so dry outside.  Our kids played awhile, and then we went our separate ways.  It was so easy, but of course, my husband helped.

I’m starting to see a new confidence about myself evolve.  However, as it does, I’m also starting to be pressed about the follow-through part of introducing yourself to your neighbors.  You can’t build relationships from introductions.  You have to go back.  I’m definitely feeling God’s pressing for me to go back, but what do I do?  Ask to borrow some sugar? Take people their mail?  Do I have to meet all of my neighbors on my street before I start my follow-throughs?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated…

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My second success wasn’t towards a physical neighbor, but rather a random person I met at a playground, so a ‘biblical neighbor’ I will call her.  It was a fellowship night for our small group at church, and we decided to have lunch after church at a local park.  Of course, my son didn’t want to eat – there’s just something about a chance to swing and play that makes a hunger ache not so apparent for kids.  As I ate, I carefully watched him, because I’m just that neurotic.  He had instantly made a friend, because he just talks to anyone, another reason I have to neurotically watch him.  At one point I turned around, and he had begged a woman to put him in a toddler swing and push him.  I could feel my two minute argument with myself beginning:

“go over there and talk to her.”

“No, butt out, she’ll think I’m weird.”

“You could just thank her for pushing your kid.”

“Yeah, I guess, I probably should, but then what do I say?”

Loudly, I said, “oh man, Emry just made that lady push him.”

God replied in the voice of my friend, “well, there’s your opportunity.”

“Grrr,” I thought.  “I’m really going to have to do this, aren’t I?”  Sheepishly, I got up and headed that way.  I stepped next to her and took over and said, “thank you for pushing him, he’s relentless.”  She nodded back to me, but didn’t say much more.  We stood there for several minutes, pushing our kids in silence.  “Think Kristel; think of something, anything to say.”

“How old is your son?” I said.

“Oh, he not my son, he my grandson,” she said in broken English.  The woman looked my age, so I was quite shocked.

“Oh, wow” I said, “you look like his mom.”

She smiled and nodded again.  Why did I feel like she didn’t know much English?  Either that or she was really shy, like me.  Then she spoke to her grandson…in Spanish.  ‘Okay, Kristel, you’ve been preparing for this – you’ve written before about “quiero practicar mi Español contigo” – this is your opportunity to do it – hacerlo’.  But I was stuck, what do I say?  I’ve already thanked her for pushing my son, and I inquired about her a bit…what more can I say to this woman whom I’m awkwardly staring at as she pushes her grandson in his swing.  If I don’t say something soon, she’s going to think I’m a freak.  My eyes are sweating as my brain runs around in my head, searching the archives for my conversation topics I can talk about in Spanish.

Finally, “conozco Español un poco.  Necessito praticarlo.”

“Si,” she said.

‘Great, I’ve made a fool of myself; I mispronounced everything I was trying to say.’  I tried to recover.  “Como se dice, “grandson” in Español?” I asked her.

“Nieto,” she said.

“Nieto,” I repeated.  She smiled.  So she either thought, ‘yay, this person is trying to speak Spanish, or LOL, this person is trying to speak Spanish’.   “Y, nieto por ella es ‘nieta?’” I continued.

She confirmed this with a nod.  Then she asked me something really fast, and honest to God, I have no idea what it was.  I nodded back, and for all I know I just said I was King Kong and was breeding baby King Kongs to take over the world.  We pushed the kids some more, and sensing that our conversation might be ending, I said, “gracias por hablando conmigo,” not really remembering if that was correct verbiage or not.  Hopefully she knew what I meant.  I gathered my kids and headed back to excitedly tell my small group my conversation.

I admit that I felt like I should have said something about Jesuschristo.  After I reported my conversation, I started to feel a bit defeated, because I hadn’t used the opportunity to share my experience with God; just to practice my Spanish.  I try to remind myself that it was obeying that made the effort successful.  I won’t ever know if our conversation meant anything to her, but rarely do we ever know the repercussions of our actions towards others.  I hope that the fact that I tried was good enough.  I guess it will all depend on if when the next opportunity comes, that I follow-through.

 

Quiero Practicar Mi Español Contigo

You’d think that knowing how to speak Spanish and speaking Spanish would be the same thing.  For me, however, the sole ability and the ability to apply are completely different matters.  I’ve already demonstrated that I am a person of inaction.  Moving requires feelings of competency.  Similarly, knowing another language is much different than practicing and using another language.

Before I completely tear myself down, I do have a pretty good command of the written Spanish language.  I could read cell phone instructions or how to measure baby formula correctly in Spanish with very little problems.  In fact, in college I tested out of my last semester of Spanish II in order to graduate fairly on time.  My professor, luckily, did not make me speak any of the language.  It was all written and I remember doing well enough.  Enough to pass and graduate, that is.

Now it is seven years later.  I’ve had plenty of opportunity to use the language.  I’ve worked with native speakers when I was a legal assistant, taught ESL students, and now work alongside native speakers again.  The most I’ve been able to say is “gracias,” and quite meekly, as usual.

The only explanation of my fear, I can weakly try to attribute to my innate shyness.  I’m a person who, how shall I say this, is diffident.  Did I mention that I observe things also?

In all actuality, the native speaker I attempt to converse with would probably be flattered that I was trying to use his or her language instead of assuming he or she would love to struggle through a conversation in English with me.  I have a strong feeling, however, that the only way to overcome my fear is full immersion.  I need to be given no option to rely on English.  I need to put mi los pies forward and march in la direción of the nearest tienda o supermercado o país de español.

After reading David Platt’s Radical: [etcetera], I realized mucho gusto ir a la pais de español y ofrecio la palabra de Jesuchristo.  Why else would I still be able to remember simple conjugations from my high school Spanish classes?  This task has been on my heart for a month or so, but I’ve always wanted to use my Spanish.  If I can find the money, and childcare, to make it a possibility, I will drop my net and go.

We are not given gifts to squander.  God plants in us skills to utilize for his glory.  I may be muy tímida, pero “todo lo puedo en Cristo que me fortalice” Philippians 4:13.