“So You’re Fluent, Right?”

Don Quijote Title Page
Original Title Page for Don Quijote

“So you’re fluent in Spanish, right?”

I can’t tell you the number of times we hear this as we visit churches, talking about our ministry. The word “fluent” is a strange thing. And as any adult who has set out to learn a second language can tell you, the road to the evasive “fluency” is slow and full of mistakes, misunderstandings and setbacks. Fluency comes in slow stages. There is no doubt that I consider myself fluent in English. And yet, put me in an unfamiliar context and I might find myself wondering how well I really do know this language. For example, not long ago Ray and I found ourselves learning about shipping goods to another country. When we lived in Mexico we drove our things over the border. That is not possible for Uruguay. So we had to choose a company, compare prices, determine how much we should or could ship, etc. So after a particular phone call, Ray told me that the gentleman on the phone was talking too quickly, he couldn’t keep up. So I decided to field the next call. And I discovered exactly what Ray was talking about. I wanted to say, wait, could you repeat that really slowly…a couple of times…Could you define a few words for me? I actually tried to write key words, in hopes that afterwards I could try to make sense of it all. Well, that it is what it is like for us in Spanish, but on a grander scale. There are times when we have great conversations, forgetting for a time that we are not speaking our native tongue. Then there are the other times. The times when the speaker is speaking too fast, using too much slang, or simply speaking on a topic where the vocabulary is unfamiliar. Of course, most conversations are somewhere in the middle, sometimes leaving us discouraged, other times encouraged.

So as we look to move to Uruguay, we are acutely aware of our need to continually practice Spanish. Yes, we are conversational, but we still have a way to go before we are truly fluent. Ray’s favorite way to practice is to find native Spanish speakers and get into conversation. When he says he wants to practice, most Spanish speakers are more than happy to oblige, even if they speak English fluently. I admire how he can do that and I do get the benefit of being a part of some of those conversations. For me, one of the ways I am preparing is by reading in Spanish. One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 is to read roughly the same amount in Spanish this year as I do in English. And then I am going through McGraw Hill’s “Complete Spanish Grammar” workbook to keep my grammar skills from getting rusty, and hoping to have it complete before we get on the airplane for Montevideo. It is my desire to make Spanish my number one hobby. It is a beautiful language and it is my dream and my prayer to be able to answer the question, “Are you fluent?” with a confident “Yes!”

One thought on ““So You’re Fluent, Right?””

  1. I have frequently asked people to speak more slowly for me, and I’m talking about english speakers. It has rarely done any good; most do not slow down one bit. I hope the spanish speakers are more responsive to the idea. You made a good point about being fluent in a language. Praying for you all to cross the language barrier with out much trouble.

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