Dearest Reach the World Students,
Today I’m going to chat with you all about learning the Spanish language here in Mérida, Venezuela. You might think, that because I’m here learning Spanish that I’ve always wanted to learn it, or that I’ve always been good at it, but you’re mistaken! Remember how I told you all about my trips to Guatemala, Mexico and the Dominican Republic? Well, throughout those trips I knew I wanted to speak Spanish. I knew I wanted to be able to communicate with people who speak another language. But can I be real with you? I didn’t actually think I could do it. I knew I’d be taking Spanish classes in middle school and high school, because that’s just what you do! But I didn’t think I could apply it to life- like having an actual conversation with a Spanish speaker. But class after class, I knew I was getting more knowledge about Spanish- I knew the grammar, but I couldn’t speak it.
I realized that the times that actually allowed me to get better at my Spanish were when I was forced out of my comfort zone and forced to speak Spanish, with native Spanish speakers, which is scary! You don’t realize how much you care what you say, until it takes you forever to put your words together in another language. And then you make mistakes left and right and you’re embarrassed a lot of the time! But those times of struggle are when you actually become better. Learning a new language is definitely a humbling experiencing, because you make tons of mistakes in one conversation!
Thus, after going to the Dominican Republic for the first time the summer after my junior (third) year in high school I knew that I needed to keep up with Spanish. Because by being surrounded by 35 Spanish speaking boys for 10 days my Spanish improved! Therefore I knew I wanted to study abroad! So off to Venezuela I went, to better my Spanish!
At first I thought I wouldn’t even be able to communicate with people. It’s very different being able to read and write in a language and be able to speak it. But here I have found that the people are very understanding about your mistakes you make, they’re willing to correct you and yes some do laugh at you, but it’s all in good fun. I have learned many new words that I never learned in my Spanish classes back home. For example, the word for banana in Spanish is usually banana, but here they say cambur. Also, I’ve learned that in the US, the Spanish word we use for beans is frijoles. But here they say caraotas. And lastly, one that’s been hard to transition, because I said it so many times in the Dominican Republic is the word for back pack in the Dominican is mochilla, but here it’s morel.
Some of my favorite new words are words to call each other, like a word to say friend is chamo/a or pana! Did you know where the word pana came from? It’s because when the English were here colonizing, they said “partner”, like “howdy partner!” (but you have to say it in an English accent to get the feel for it!). And the Spanish speakers heard it as pana!
This word, pana, is the perfect example to talk to you all about how much the English language has affected the Spanish language here in Venezuela! The majority of the brand names here are from the US, so you see Nike, Levis, and surprisingly Columbia is a very popular brand. But if I were to pronounce Nike, like we do in the States, no one would have any idea what you were saying! You have to say it like you’d pronounce it in Spanish. So Nike is “neekay” here. Also, words like brownie (the food) are called brownie here and hamburgers are hamburguesas.
The craziest thing that I’ve seen, dealing with the interaction between the English language and Spanish is how much English music they love here! Even though they have NO idea what the lyrics are saying the majority of Venezuelans have grown up listening to music from the US. I went to a ballet recital at the University of Los Andes and it was 1970’s themed. But not 1970’s culture from Venezuela, but from the US. All but one of the songs was in English and was either an Elvis song or from the movie Grease. How crazy is that? The majority of the dancers had no idea what they were dancing to, but they said that they knew the songs. How crazy! We’re so used to listening to music of our language, but the majority of Venezuelan music is actually from the US and not even in their own language! Think about if we grew up listening to music we didn’t understand?
But I’ve loved learning Spanish here! Especially getting involved in groups where there are only Venezuelans has really helped. Such as going to church every Sunday and listening to the songs in Spanish and then hearing the Pastor speak. Or playing kickingball and rugby with Venezuelans. So if you want to practice a language try to immerse (what does that mean?) yourself in the language as much as possible! Find music in that language, watch movies in that language, join or start a club to practice the language and try to find friends who speak the language! But whatever you do, don’t give up on it! Learning a language opens up doors to new countries, new friends and new adventures!
Si se puede (you can do it!),
Languages open up doors to a whole new world
Going to Spanish-speaking church always helps you learn new words and about Venezuelan culture
The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself…thus I’m the only one from the US on my kickingball team!
Start learning a new language by trying food from that country! See how some of the words are the same: “Granola”, “Tuna”