With the visa drama, I got 1 week of classes mixed with orientation. I took a beginner class (because you can only do so well on a speaking test when you're jetlagged and sleep deprived and 1 day in a new country) and a grammar class that I adored. Which is ironic, because I HATE learning grammar. But I guess if you put me in a room with a hilariously awesome teacher and 3 other girls, I'll actually get some practice and learn some new things. I'm pretty sure that one day with him made conjugating the preterite tense easier than all my years of college Spanish did.
So, after 1 week, I felt confident enough to order food and get a taxi and MAYBE carry on a conversation. Then I had to buy a cell phone, find an apartment, deal with a landlord, start work, learn where to buy a bus card, groceries and all the other things you have to do when you move to a new city. I started to feel slightly confident in my grasp of Spanish.
Then I started getting to know teachers and kids at school, and they wanted to talk to me. I basically felt like I was starting at zero. I loved that kids wanted to get to know me and tell me things, but when they spoke fluent Spanish, I was stuck. I did a lot of nodding and smiling and referring them to the other teachers. It sucked, and it still sucks sometimes.
I have some awesome teachers who've taken it upon themselves to push me to converse in Spanish though. They put up with my mistakes, and when I have to change to English, and they teach me new phrases and nicely correct my stupid grammar mistakes. I also started going to an intercambio where we speak in Spanish for a half hour and English for a half hour, which has been really helpful to be with people who all want to improve their language skills, because no one makes me feel stupid when I make mistakes.
I think the biggest barrier for me improving my Spanish has been me. I want to be perfect, and I feel so dumb when I speak in Spanish because I have to go slowly, and I make stupid mistakes, and sometimes I can't even get numbers right. (Seriously, I gave too much money at the post office today, Luckily she was super nice about it and laughed and reminded me what she'd said...and of course I totally understood then.) If I can speak in English, I can communicate what I want to say, but sometimes no one will understand that. I do a lot of charades in class, and I've realized I just need to get over myself and my fear of looking foolish. I did a pretty great job acting out directions as I gave them (in English) to a class of 2nd graders, and it was pretty awesome to see kids who got it. They felt pretty cool too. My first grade art kids are getting better at responding to questions about colors in English, and they love answering me in English, and I love when they do. There's a lot of high fiving and excited smiles going on when I talk to them, and I love it.
This experience makes me think about how I reacted to people who were learning English in the States. I know a lot of us want everyone who moves to the States to know our language right away, but sometimes it's not possible. It wasn't possible for me to learn Spanish before I came, so how can I expect people to learn English right away? I also think that I sometimes dismissed people who weren't fluent. I didn't have the patience to take the time to talk with them because it was hard to cross the language barrier, or too much time and effort, but I would be so hurt if someone did that to me. I know I make mistakes as soon as I make them, and I feel stupid, but my teachers and friends are patient with me, and never write me off. I have so much more empathy for ESL learners now, and that's a great thing. I need to make sure I tell them when they're making progress, because I love hearing from native speakers that my Spanish is getting better. Ana's fiance doesn't speak English at all, so hearing him laugh at a story I told in Spanish and tell me that I'm getting better means so much more.
It's a cycle of positivity- I get positive or constructive feedback, and I want to continue practicing. I've gotten so much better at past tenses, and I've almost grasped the differences between por/para, which is a BIG DEAL for me. I need to pay all this positivity forward, and hopefully I can do that in a bilingual ESL class. First, I just have to master Spanish....poco a poco...little by little.