Au Pairing

Au Pair Lessons: The Language Dilemma

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Just over a year ago, I wrote about how I was pretty sure every French person on the street knew that I wasn’t thinking in French. Which sounds a little bit crazy, but if you’re living in a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s really freaking intimidating to open your mouth and have words that don’t don’t quite fit around your tongue and teeth try and sort themselves out into a coherent sentence. It took me months in France before I was comfortable with my French, before it didn’t feel like a too small sweater and make me uncomfortable for long periods of time. Which, to be honest, is why I’m kind of really alrightl that I don’t speak any Spanish. 

I know you’re probably looking at that and thinking to yourself, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense,” and I get that, on the surface, it doesn’t. And maybe, even below the surface and several reasons later, it still won’t, but let me try. I’m not saying that I don’t want to learn Spanish (because I do and is why I get myself to language classes twice a week and give myself headaches flipping through my notebooks and trying to remember how, exactly, the ending for verbs ending in -ar are) and it’s not because I don’t think learning new languages isn’t important, because I do (trust me: I have a speech I perfected in my last year of history class about why English speakers shouldn’t be content to just know English). It’s also not to say that it’s not painfully and brutally frustrating when you have no idea what’s going on and end up tuning out most of the conversations going on around you. It is so frustrating and you do feel like that idiot who just looks blank and has to shrug to the waiter/waitress/sales associate/woman at the bus stop who wants to know when the 334 will be pulling in because you don’t know what they’re saying.

The thing about not knowing Spanish is that I don’t have the problem I had when I was in France. During those first few months, I did know French, but it was rusty and out of practice and a bike that I needed to get back up on. But in order to get on it, I had to practice, in front of people, and that made me nervous and fumble with the pedals and grip the handlebars too tightly and I ended up running into the curb or a lamppost I didn’t see or the tail of a cat. Since I don’t have any Spanish, instead of me trying to keep up with their bike riding, I instead ask them to stop for a moment and have them meet me halfway. They can stay on their bike stand in the middle of the street with me while we try and also keep moving. Sometimes it takes a few tries and a couple of head shakes and my very confused face, but in the end there’s always a friendly smile and we both figure out what we need.

Eventually (soon-ish, I hope), I’ll be able to get on the Spanish language bike, with it’s slightly crooked training wheels that aren’t completely on the ground and I might fall a couple of times, but at least I’ll be riding.  It’ll take some more classes and lessons and repeating the same word half a billion times because I didn’t get that double r just right, but I’ll get there. I just don’t have the same pressure that I do with French, which is kind of a nice change.

I guess what I’m trying to say is:

1.) Don’t avoid a place/doing things/seeing things/etc. because you can’t speak the language – Even if they can’t speak English, there will be middle ground. Pictures or pointing or hand signs. Both of you are probably more clever than you give yourselves credit for. You’ll figure it out.

2.) If you have that can-kind-of-ride-a-bike-but-not-really level of language – Pat yourself on the back. That is great and an achievement and asking people to slow down or speak up (politely) or mixing up words or needing an extra three seconds for everything to process is not a bad thing. It can feel embarrassing and awkward and you might get super frustrated, but that’ll just help you push forward and work on it and keep trying. People will appreciate you trying, they really will.

3.) On top of that, do your best. There are so many changes that you go through getting to a new country, a new family, a new culture, a new everything, none of which are easy as 1, 2, 3 and however you figure out how to communicate is fine and you’ll get to wherever you’re going. Even if you bump into a couple of walls on the way there.

Things I’m Loving:

+ A playlist for your Monday – (No such thing as too much music.)
+ This artist – (Because holy mind blowing, Batman!)
+ A fall recipe – (Perfect for after school snacks.)
+ 15 crazy ideas – (For a saner life.)

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