When you move to a new country with no prior knowledge of the language, confusion is part of your daily life. As common as a trip to the bathroom or a glass of water, slightly shaking your head and thinking “what are they saying to me?” happens every single day. As I near the 4 month point of my time in Central America its hard for me to judge how much Spanish I know. Sometimes I have complete conversations and understand whats going on, but other times a simple conversation of pleasantries perplexes my brain to the point of no return and I just stare at this person like they are speaking some strange aboriginal language. What adds to this confusion is that in the school I’m currently working for all my coworkers are from a range of different Latin Countries. Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru and Panama, the differences within the Spanish language are far greater than I would have ever expected. Some of the teacher’s in my school speak slow, enunciate and make me think that I’m actually learning to hablo espanol. Other teachers speak at me with their tongue moving like it’s on fire, dropping the ends of words and blending everything into something that sounds like maybe it could be Arabic. When I’m completely lost in a group of people speaking Spanish and unable to contribute anything for uncomfortable lengths of time, I find it easy for my mind to wander or often just shut off completely. Sometimes I play a little game in my head where I just completely make up the meaning of conversations taking them on crazy tangents that more than likely have absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on in real life.
As Spanish is a passionate language people often speak with a lot of emotion that I often find hard to decipher. Sometimes I can’t tell if people are fighting and yelling at each other or if that’s just the way they speak normally. This often creates awkward situations where I’m not sure how to act or what facial expression to display. For example, the other day I found myself in a parent-teacher conference in my usual cloudy haze of confusion. As I desperately racked my brain to follow an Argentinian, Peruvian, Panamanian and Colombian speak with each other I noticed that the conversation began to increase in intensity. Not sure whether the volume and pace of the meeting was normal, people were angry or they were all friends joking around with each other I maintained a big smile throughout the meeting and tried to act like I had somewhat of a clue as to what was going on. When the meeting adjourned, I gave the parent a warm “goodbye and nice to meet you” and went on with my day. Later that afternoon I overheard some other teachers talking about a furious parent who came in this morning and went off on a rant about the “stupid” teachers at the school. As I inquired more I realized that I had been present throughout this rant and a shade of red took over my face as the embarrassment began to creep up my spine. This confused Gringo teacher sat there like an idiot for the better part of an hour while a parent talked negatively about me and the other teachers and all I did was smile and exclaim how much of a pleasure it was to meet him. The only positive thing that can come out of this is that the parent must have been slightly mind blown of how little his words affected me!?