Category Archives: #spanishconversation

Laughter

A fun bunch of people gathered last night at Mestizo, and we took turns practicing Spanish by building a sentence that included an infinitive verb form together with the name of a fellow participant. Of course, the weekly exercise is just something to do during a lull in the conversation, and last night we gabbed so much that the list of Spanish verbs only made its way around the circle 2 times.

I seem to do a lot of laughing in our Tuesday night group. Sometimes I laugh at myself for the way I whip comments together after pulling Spanish words out my head, kind of a Spanish gumbo soup, hoping that I make sense. (The confused looks of others, combined with silence, generally means I need to take another stab at articulating what I want to say). Other times I laugh with others at their antics. And sometimes I laugh just because I enjoy learning Spanish, feeling fortunate to have found this new path only after the first 48 years of my life.

I hope that you, Dear Reader, enjoy laughing often and heartedly. Laughter truly is an elixir, one of life’s most precious gifts. Not that we should ignore the harsh realities of our brothers and sisters throughout the world who experience hardship as I write. We feel their pain, and we feel our own pain when we’ve been given a hard row to hoe. But we also seek to lift ourselves and those that are around us by refusing to let anyone, or anything, take away our joy. Laughter helps sustain joy, so may you laugh today … and even better, may you help someone else laugh today.

Okay, I got a little philosophical there at the end – but keep laughing!!!

Also posted in #laughter

Spanish Conversation Group

Four months ago today we started our Spanish conversation group Solo en español. Here are some lessons learned from the last four months:

People come and go. In the last 4 months we have had more than 30 different people participate … some come once and never return, others come regularly for awhile until competing obligations pull them away, there are some that keep coming back periodically, and still others come virtually every week.

The group will never be all things to all people. Since language levels vary, elementary conversation will be too advanced for those just starting to learn the language, it will feel just about right for some, and it will feel, well, elementary to more advanced learners. Also, the format will be subject to debate.

Establish a primary focus. From day one, our primary focus has been to insist on speaking only in Spanish as much as possible. That’s why we named the group, Solo en español. Us gringos will never learn to speak Spanish while living here in the United States if we keep giving up and falling back into English to say something. So, for 1 hour out of the 168 hours in each week, we “bite the bullet” and do our best to communicate in Spanish.

Free is better. For several weeks we paid a native Spanish speaker to be our moderator, we felt that having a native Spanish speaker present would prevent a bunch of gringos from reinforcing each other’s errors. However, because the accounting became a mess (who has paid what?), and because pay-to-participate was likely keeping away participants, we just decided to make it free to any and all.

We rely on the kindness of native Spanish speakers. It is very, very helpful when native Spanish speakers participate … and because this group is not a language exchange (where half the time is spent in Spanish, while half the time is spent in English), obviously native Spanish speakers who are trying to learn English can feel a little shortchanged by participating in this group. However, there are various English conversation groups around for those who want to learn to converse in English, not to mention the opportunity to practice English while going to and fro in the city. We NEED native Spanish speakers, we LOVE native Spanish speakers. J

A conversation starter is helpful. It is good to come prepared with a topic to start talking about, otherwise you might find yourself sitting around and staring at each other.

It pays to advertise. We have found participants by word-of-mouth, through the posting on the chalkboard at Mestizo, by posting ads on Craigslist, through notices on Salt Lake City Spanish Meetup, by participating in various other groups, and through other channels. This weekly email recap – intentionally sent as a blind copy in order to protect privacy – is itself sent to almost 90 different email addresses that have been collected. If someone gets tired of my weekly ramblings and wants to be removed from the list, it takes all of about 10 seconds to do that – done deal. Nonetheless, I try to put something insightful and/or helpful in each weekly email.

Be kind to yourself. Speaking just for myself, it would be easy to be frustrated with my progress based on the number of hours each week I spend learning Spanish, I envisioned myself being much more conversational by now. However, it is best to stay in the moment, do your best, be patient, and be kind to yourself when assessing your progress.

Lastly, and most importantly, help one another. The motivational speaker Zig Ziglar often says, “You can have anything in life that you want, if you just help enough other people get what they want.” Obviously, a person’s intention is askew and their motivation is not true if they help others just to get something out of it. The only thing we can do with our life is give it away, and the happiest and most blessed people in this world are the ones who give freely of their time, talent, money, and self.

La vida es buena

I want you to imagine that someone anonymously paid to send you on an exotic vacation to Latin America. You do not know where you were going … you simply have to be a willing participant.

After the airplane lands you are immediately whisked away in a limo for a 2 hour drive into the country, finally arriving at the hacienda. The Latino family welcomes you and shows you to your room, and the balcony of your bedroom overlooks vineyards that are ringed by mountains. Ahhhhh.

There is a quaint village nearby where there is a daily farmers market, and there are several Native American Indian and Latino artists selling their handmade wares. And oh, your anonymous donor also left $1,000 in your room to spend however you want … and the craftswomen and craftsmen in the village love to haggle over price! In fact, it would be culturally insensitive NOT to haggle with them over price.

Not only that, but the villagers enjoy it when you buy stuff with cash from one vendor, and then use those goods to barter with other vendors for their goods. In that way, the whole village gets to share in what everyone has brought to the market – goods, services, cash, produce, crafts, goodwill, etc.

No one at the hacienda or market, or even in the entire village, speaks English. Nadie. No one. Nary a soul.

Oh well, no worries (no te preocupes) … you’ve studied a little Spanish, and you do your best to buy, barter, and bargain, and you have the time of your life. And this little Latino village now has a new friend.

Sounds nice, eh?

I also want you to imagine that going to a Spanish conversation group is that little, faraway, village in Latin America. We gather not to exchange goods and services but to experience culture. And no one in our group speaks English. Nadie. No one. Nary a soul.

No te preocupes – just enjoy the experience while tuning your ear to hear Spanish, and speak a bit of Spanish as you are able.

La vida es buena.

Out-of-Body Spanish

I had 2 revelations last night during our Spanish conversation group.

Revelation #1 – Detach

We are all at different levels of experience with learning the Spanish language, and we all learn in different ways. Some of us know very little Spanish, others are intermediate through many years of study and practice, and still others are native Spanish speakers. We will never be able to manufacture a scenario whereby we all learn in the same way AND all have the same Spanish language proficiency. So, don’t worry about it! No te preocupes.

Don’t compare yourself with anyone else, and don’t worry about where you are right now in your language learning. Just enjoy the group, and learn what you will.

Y’all probably already knew that, and if you were not so kind you might be thinking something like “Thank you Captain Obvious.” Okay then, let’s move on to the next revelation.

Revelation #2 – That Out-of-Body Feeling

Last night I almost felt like I was having an out-of-body experience (notice I said “almost”). As I sat there listening to the conversation in Spanish, I understood most of what was being said, and even though I was participating, I felt more like an observer of the whole scene while thinking, “Is this really me?” and, “Is this really happening?” Then I said to myself, “Yes this is me, yes this is really happening, yes I am enjoying it, and yes I am going to stay right here in this flow.”

Scary, eh?

In all seriousness – and I will say this in the first person so that I don’t come across as speaking to (or for) anyone else – it is wise to accept what the Universe gives me, and equally wise to position myself in the slipstream of the Universe while yielding to where the Universe wants to take me.

(Universe with a capital “U” is God as I know God, but I use the term Universe out of respect for my friends and readers who may not share my perspective).

I am always amazed at each of the serendipitous moments in life (or maybe the serendipity in all of life) made manifest in the smallest chance, amazed at how a tiny chance can become reality and impact my life (1) in that moment only, or (2) for the rest of my life. And several of those serendipitous moments conspired together to spawn our group Sólo en Español.

So anyway, I don’t quite know what to make of this little “grupo” we got going on Tuesday nights, but I’m having fun with it and going with the flow.

We had 3 native Spanish speakers there last night, and there were 4 of us learners. That’s at least twice as many people as we had last week! We are growing at an incredible rate! Who knows, at the rate we are growing we could start a New World Order, and a benevolent one at that!