Fuzzy brain, fumbling words

My friend Jessica wrote a post about making language mistakes & feeling embarrassed that is speaking to me in so many ways today. To be sure, Jess’ Spanish is leaps and bounds beyond mine, but it shows that we all hit a wall of frustration at certain points, no matter how advanced our language skills. We’re not native speakers, and we can’t change that.

I went to Istanbul for the weekend (I loved Istanbul and will write about it soon), and upon returning, it’s as if I’ve completely forgotten how to string together a sentence in Spanish.

This morning, I ran into the yoga instructor that teaches at the little studio next door to my apartment (the studio where I paid for a month of classes). I’ve decided not to renew for December because I’ll be traveling and having a visitor from the states and moving to a new apartment (yet again, more on that later). (And I didn’t really enjoy the style of yoga, but that’s beside the point.)

The instructor said she’d been wondering where I’ve been and asked if I’d be returning to take classes. I meant to say that I’ve been busy and out of town, but might consider it in January.

Instead, I completely fumbled.

I couldn’t get a sentence out. I couldn’t conjugate a verb. I basically spouted a few disconnected words, and she tried to fill in the rest, and I just nodded at what she was guessing, even though it had no bearing on the truth.

By the end of the conversation (if we can even call it that), it’d been determined that I’m leaving Barcelona next week because of money and I’m going back to my home in the states and ending my visit here.

Um, yeah. None of that is true.

I was just so flustered and frustrated that I couldn’t even attempt to get the conversation back on track.

She gave me dos besos and wished me a wonderful Christmas in the states and a good life!


Inevitably, I’m going to run into her next week – or next month (though I’m moving to a new apartment, it’s just around the corner) – and she’ll be perplexed why the stupid American girl who can’t speak a lick of Spanish is still wandering around the streets and not headed home.


A little preview of my 3-day trip to Istanbul …

spice market

blue mosque



Spanish word(s) I love: copa

As I study Spanish, I come across words that have usage and/or subtle meanings that I love, so I’ve decided to start a semi-regular post series on the blog called Spanish word(s) I love. I promise I’ll make mistakes in usage so don’t go quoting me on anything, but perhaps you’ll be as entertained as I’ve been by the Spanish language.

Today’s word: copa

copa de vino

¿Quieres tomar una copa?

Copa means cup or glass, as in copa de vino (glass of wine). It’s used in other drinking-related phrases, such as:

  • tomar una copa = have a drink
  • ir de copas = go out drinking
  • beber una copa de más = have one too many drinks

It’s also used for:

  • Copa Mundial = World Cup
  • copa de sombrero = crown of a hat
  • copas (de baraja) = one of the four suits in a Spanish deck of cards

And my favorite: como la copa de un pino, which literally translates to “like the crown of a pine (tree)” and is used in the following idioms:

  • Él dijo una mentira como la copa de un pino = He told a whopper of a lie.
  • Es una idiotez como la copa de un pino = That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

What do you think? ¿Qué bueno, no? Stay tuned for more nerdy, idiom-filled fun …

oh yeah, I’m here to improve my Spanish

I spoke English all day every day for the month of October while getting my TEFL certification. When the course ended, I expected to be speaking Spanish more regularly, but even now, with the students I’m tutoring, I speak to them primarily in English and only introduce a Spanish word if it’ll help them understand the meaning of difficult vocabulary. (Even then, I can’t do this super well because my Spanish knowledge is limited.)

When I hang out with Shelby, we speak English. When I’m at home, with my Italian flatmate, we speak English. (She keeps encouraging me to speak Spanish with her, but I’m intimidated. She’s fluent in Italian, Spanish (Castellano) and English. She also speaks some Catalan and Portuguese. I’m absurdly jealous.)


Just your average Friday night: translating for fun.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book in Spanish (Maktub by Paulo Coehlo) and laboriously translating it page by page. (Any idea how freakin’ long it takes to read two pages?) It’s actually pretty fun, but I feel like I’m cheating. I’m not really getting out of my comfort zone that way. (For me, speaking is the big hurdle.)

So, a couple nights ago, I forced myself to go to my first intercambio, where Castellano and English speakers switch between the two languages (every 10-15 minutes) for two hours. I sat at a table with a guy from Los Angeles, two women from Spain and a woman from Peru. We started out talking about the difficulty of learning a new language as an adult and how different learner types need different types of exposure to the elements of the language, and then we meandered into issues of politics, adultery, feminism and patriotism. I couldn’t believe I was able to keep up – and somewhat able to successfully express my views. I made a lot of errors in verb tense, I’m sure, and I kept repeating some of the same keywords, but at least I could understand the thread of the conversation, and it helped that we switched back to English every 15 minutes and could clarify where we were at.

It seems like I’ve been at the same Spanish level forever. I teeter on the edge pre-intermediate, and I never advance because I’m too scared to sound like a fool and make mistakes (and it’s been 10 years since I’ve been in a Spanish-speaking country for more than a week or two at a time). I think I’m finally thoroughly motivated to push beyond my current level. (Either that, or I’m just sick of talking about the weather, foods I like, the people in my family and what I do in my free time – since those are the only things you talk about as a basic learner!)

And sounding like a fool is all part of learning, right? So let’s bring on the folly and mistakes and embarrassment.

What about you? How do you learn a new language best? Any apps, sites or books you’d recommend?