I'm hosting a couple from the US and they've told me the struggles they had in other countries in Latin America to communicate. They said it's a relief to be able to relax and speak in their mother tongue for the first time in months. I think it's a courtesy and sign of respect to talk to someone in their native tongue -- whenever I find someone who speaks mine (Brazilian Portuguese) I am really happy someone had the trouble of learning a new language just to communicate with me and my people :)
This doesn't seem big compared to speaking French in France, but I finally got over my anxiety completely by accident and spoke Spanish! I was greeted by a parking attendant with "Hola," and responded in Spanish without even thinking about it (I guess I was too busy making sure I had my keys, bag, computer, etc., to think about being nervous). Everything went fine... and now I'm starting Skype Spanish tutoring with a friend :)
You know the one thing that has always scared me? Sounding stupid.
Because of a complex, labyrinthine education in language that involved Nancy Drew books, my primary school librarian and an incredibly verbose older sister who never shut up, I have always been a good talker. That is what I can do—talk. Use words with a lot of syllables (correctly!). Make people laugh, inform people, whatever.
When it comes to my mother tongue, I am as advanced of a speaker and writer as ordinary people come.
So, when I jaunted to France for a four-month adventure earlier this year, I most looked forward to the conversations I'd have. I imagined myself sitting inside smoky, Parisian bars, arguing the merits of Albert Camus with hot-headed Europeans. Or, standing outside of a Metro station cheekily explaining that "soccer" is actually the more correct name for that sport that's so popular over there.
None of that happened. Even after three years of French instruction at university and some intensive brushing-up/re-learning months prior to my departure, I could barely utter the sounds to order a baguette for weeks after I'd arrived in France.
I was scared. Really scared. That I would say the wrong words, forget to drop the ending consonants or misunderstand the question and give a completely asinine answer.
I let a lot of time go by in Paris waiting until my linguistic ability would catch up with my intellectual ability. It never happened. (Pending, though.)
When I arrived in the Dominican Republic this month, I was dead-set on not making the same mistakes I had made in France. I would use the minimal language skills I had—thanks to my middle school Spanish teacher, Mr. Vigil.
I speak slowly and I ask people to repeat themselves. I can never remember whether habitacion is feminine or masculine. When a motoconcho says the trip is cincuenta pesos, there is always a moment when I pause to think if that's 40 or 50. But, I do it. I speak Spanish. Terrible Spanish. Barely intelligible Spanish.
But, I do it. And I am learning much more from conversations that I would sitting down with a book. I am experiencing the fullness and fluidity of expression that comes when people are speaking their native language.
I did it. And you should too!
(p.s. the pic is the view of the road in Bavaro from the motoconcho.)