My heart pounded against my chest, and my voice faltered as I handed a tray of lattes across the counter, hoping they wouldn’t notice how much my hands shook. This was no life or death situation, no meeting with a celebrity or grand public speech, but a 25-second interaction as a barista with a Spanish-speaking customer.
As the only employee with the ability to speak Spanish, I took pride in surprising customers and coworkers with these small interactions, but my nerves sometimes kept me from even trying. Sometimes even if I did, I said only the bare minimum, or switched back to English when I began to doubt my knowledge I absolutely had from years of Spanish grammar classes.
Not only does studying Spanish in Granada teach me how people speak conversationally in real-life settings and allow me to practice in daily life what I learn in class, it gives me the confidence in my abilities that I lacked before. At some point during my first month I realized that more important than speaking and writing perfectly is the willingness to err, correct, learn, and try again. I don’t feel that I am anywhere near fluent, but I find that fact causes me less stress the longer I live here.
The experience I gain by studying Spanish in Spain makes me more comfortable with each conversation, regardless of the mistakes I make. It remains frustrating to struggle with difficult concepts in grammar, or to stop mid-sentence to reach for my phone upon realizing that a vocab word is missing from my mental library, and that, I’m sure, will continue even after I return from Spain. What will have changed is the trust I now have in myself. I can express my beliefs, sentiments, and personality regardless of grammatical mistakes.
I think part of that newfound confidence comes from the fact that life in Granada develops in me the sense that my language education is anchored somewhere specific. It gives me a sense of belonging and adds context to each vocabulary word and textbook grammar rule.
As I explore the city in which I live, attend classes, go out with friends and make new ones, I build context around my years of textbook learning. The language is given and in turn gives life as I endow it with a background of experience, feeling, and memory. Not only has my surety increased, but so has the feeling that I’ve earned this new skill by living somewhere where I use it every day.
Over time, I will hone my grammatical skills, I will learn the nuances of the language, and my ability to comprehend and respond will become less of a process and more of a second nature. For now though, I will return home with context, with confidence, and significantly less shaky.
The world awaits…discover it.