Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Soy dos/dos

Twelve weeks of language training have resulted in my growing from a 1 in Spanish to an officially-tested 2/2. What does that mean? According to the guide I got in my "exit interview" with the learning consultant folks up on the top floor (gee... wish I knew about this guide earlier), it means that I:
  • Can handle conversations about familiar topics in an organized way.
  • Can describe my present or most recent job or activity in some detail.
  • Can give detailed information about  my family, house and community.
  • Can interview an employee.
  • Feel confident that when I talk to native speakers on topics such as those above, they understand me most of the time.
  • Can report the facts of what I have recently seen on TV news or in the newspaper.
However, it does not mean that I:
  • Feel I have a professional command of the langugage.
  • Rarely find myself unable to finish a sentence because of linguistic limitations.
  • Can defend personal opinions about social and cultural topics.
  • Can speculate at length about abstract topics.
All of the last set describes a 3 speaking score, the trajectory my class is taking with their target exam dates in September. I must admit, I was really hoping that I'd learned enough to score a 2+; however, after reading the above-descriptions and mentally re-winding my actual language exam - I know I was scored appropriately. Yeah, I felt I'd let myself and my teachers down for a few days, but I've gotten over it. I had a good conversation with one of my teachers who helped put things in perspective, and perhaps this will be helpful to anyone else in language training (and I paraphrase here): Knowing new vocabulary and owning it are different things. As we gain new words, we are first able to recognize them spoken or in print and repeat them, much like meeting a new person and restating their name. We might remember that person's name and recognize their face and voice, maybe even know a few basic facts about them - but we can't state their likes and dislikes or recount any of their life stories. For us to "own" new vocabulary, we have to be able to use it comfortably and repeatedly; we need to know various ways the word is used, its synonyms and antonyms. Only when we can trot it out with this level of comfort and understanding have we really learned that word and can be relied upon to repeat it correctly.

Given this definition, it is clear that I was pinning my 2+ hopes on vocab that I'd just met on the bus that morning. I have earned the score they sent me to earn and will take it on to Bogota with the hopes of returning in two years as a 3/3. (Unfortunately, that would mean taking that godfersakin' exam again, something I don't relish, but ah well...)

The exam was Thursday. The pity party commenced immediately and lasted nearly through the weekend. Tim's last visit before my shipping-out proved to be an easy distraction and by Monday, I felt I had already closed down one of my many lives (the Spanish life). The focus now is on logistics and all the details of preparing to move next week. Today is the first of my "consultation days" where I get to run around town and take care of errands, arrange pack-outs, get tickets, get the Tabbies to the vet for their travel certificates etc... These days will culminate in a giant scavenger hunt of signatures that constitutes my offical check-out procedure for both Main State and FSI. I hope to meet with one of the Desk Officers for Colombia again before heading south, just to see what type of issues will await me when I check in. Also, I need to print out the 23-page "How-to" guide that my predecessor thoughtfully made for me with directions for what I'll be doing. Unfortunately, we won't have an overlap as she left post a few weeks ago. Did you catch that it's 23 pages? Yeah, the cheat-sheet in itself is five pages. Oh boy.

It's down to the final week, and a truly bittersweet week it will be. I have seen off two more friends to Morocco and Kuwait and the reports from Morocco are already glowing. And finally some long-quiet OMS friends from my class have piped up with their tales. Everyone is doing great; everyone survived; almost everyone has already been covering the front office and has lived to tell. Some are secretly admitting to liking writing Dip Notes. I can take one of two messages from their accounts: First, everyone else is flourishing - I will too. -OR- It's time that one of us flail like a goldfish on the carpet and that someone will be me. I'll have to think about that some more.

Okay, the next update will (hopefully) contain tales of moving the Tabbies to South America with the graceful assistance of my friend and "cat coyote" and perhaps even a full description of our apartment in all its four-bathroomed glory.

Hasta luego!


  1. I hope you cut yourself a big o' break on the language thing. It's mind-boggling to think of the intricacies of really becoming fluent and being able to think, work, reason, translate and absorb the cultural subtleties of another language. It takes time! You've done an incredible job of trying to do it with sand running through the hourglass and that can't be easy. You're better than you know but you will still get there with time and practice in Colombia.

  2. So happy you got your 2/2! And thanks for the blog shout-out. I'll be posting something new tomorrow since it's been a while. I miss all you OMSes so much already.

  3. I miss you...and stop being paranoid. You'll do great.

  4. Well it'll help if Colombia uses the Spanglish that apparently Lima does! :-) Hey, are you in the same time zone as Bogota?