The state of our language skills

It means “gringo power” right? – Humahuaca, Argentina

When a Uruguayan tells you that you don’t sound like a gringo, you tend to get a little excited. But when he turns to his friends and says that truly, he can’t believe what he’s hearing, you might blush a little bit. That’s exactly what I did, and then proceeded to speak nervously the rest of the night, not wanting to pull away the tenuous facade that I had managed.

Foreign language fluency is a fickle thing. Some days you can’t miss – especially when you have the luxury of dealing with an accent that is familiar – and other days your mouth and tongue simply will not cooperate. There are certain questions and topics that we cover almost everyday, leaving some to assume much too quickly that we’re quite good at Spanish. I can tell you where I’ve been, and what our plan is for the remaining time with relative ease, but if we get onto a more complicated subject, the words are going to come a lot more slowly. To this day I never know if a person is asking me what city I just came from, or what my nationality is when they ask, “De donde vienes?” (it means both and frequently I guess wrong)

I guess I’m attempting to answer the question, “after this trip you must speak like a native, huh?” Sheena has certainly improved her language skills in a much more obvious way; she progressed from speaking very little to convincing me that she would never flounder on her own. But I’m not sure if mine have sharpened in any measurable way. It was never a goal of mine to “speak like a native,” but on good days it’s a nice feeling to convince someone I’m un che, if only for a few minutes.


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