Saturday, May 23, 2015

More Stories from the Trenches of Language Training

I have a confession to make: I have become quite a goldfish, especially in the past, oh, five or six years. Maybe longer, but as a goldfish - I can't remember exactly how long I've felt this way.  

What's a goldfish, you ask? 

Someone/thing whose thoughts skip so quickly from one thing to the next, with the new thought instantly replacing the former thought, that everything appears new again. The goldfish happily circles their bowl: Oh look, a castle! Some rocks! Nice little plant! Hey, a castle!  How nice, plants! Look at the rocks! Hey, a castle! 

It means that I can hear the same joke twice in a month and be equally amused each time. It means that I have been guilty of telling the same story more than once to (far too polite) friends, or so my husband reminds me.  It means that I can re-experience something as if for the first time, reacting the same way each time, unfortunately without the added Groundhog Day benefit of making adjustments and doing it better the second time. 

Therefore when I re-read my post from over two years ago describing what it's like to be in the depths of language training, I was pleasantly surprised to read that I felt then as I do now.  In an effort to be slightly less goldfishy, I won't rehash the entire story for you. Here is the link

In short, language training is how I imagine a long stretch of psycho-therapy to be: It takes you to places in yourself you may not want to go. You feel smart, then stupid; frustrated then victorious; stagnant then accelerating.  It touches sensitive nerves about how we feel about ourselves, and how we believe others view us.  We're stuck in a classroom with peers (sometimes with bosses and coworkers), naked, and doing our best not only to learn, but hopefully do so without losing all sense of pride. 

We just completed week 13/24 of our Romanian training, meaning we're now officially over the hump and coursing towards the finish line. There are days during our reading exercises when I see sentence structures and realize that in a hundred years, I would have never thought to put those words together like that, so how the heck am I going to do it in my exam 11 weeks?! Granted, I'm comparing myself to a native speaker who has had a lifetime to figure it out and I only heard this language for the first time three months ago, but I find the comparison impossible to resist.  Which makes me feel crappy. 

Being a goldfish also means that it's hard to keep well-planned and structured thoughts in my head, i.e. in an intangible and still-unspoken form. By the time I get to the end of the thought, the beginning has already evaporated as if I'm writing with water on a hot stone. It means that I have to speak quickly as soon as a thought strikes me so as not to lose it. Waiting until an appropriate moment in the classroom conversation opens for me to politely step through and trot out my grammatically-correct, well-considered and insightful opinion feels near impossible.  I envy my introverted classmate(s) who can tune out the noise and distraction of the class to correctly compose their thoughts before speaking.  

While it feels like this goldfish is simply circling the bowl, never truly gaining any ground,  instinctively I also believe that this isn't true. This was illustrated to me the other night when my husband and I went to a little El Salvadorean restaurant for dinner.  The TV above the bar was playing a Mexican telenovela at full volume. While waiting for our food to arrive, I watched the show.  And I understood it. Even when I turned my head away from the screen, I could still follow the conversation.  This was NOT the case two years ago when I wrote about feeling lost in the midst of my last language training.  It wasn't even the case after I lived in Mexico for one year. But it is true now.  

Therefore, even a Nemo like me can deduce that she is probably making progress, even if it is too slow to notice now.  Someday I'll be in a little corner Romanian restaurant and I'll be able to follow the conversation behind me, or I'll chat with the Moldovan waitress without pausing and stumbling between every third word as I do now. 

It's nice to remember that, although I had forgotten it already, I was once before in such a trench of despair and lived to tell the story. Poco a poco, puțin câte puțin, this fishy will make it out of the bowl.  

I just have to keep telling myself that, because it appears I keep forgetting it.