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The Mona Lisa Smile

Exactly two and a half months ago I arrived in Costa Rica fresh, determined, and very naive. I had only one goal: to be fluent in Spanish. Before coming to Costa Rica, I had studied Spanish in high school for three years and in the University for two. ¨Surely,¨ I thought, ¨I will be able to communicate in Spanish after studying for five whole years.¨ However, I stepped off my claustrophobic United Airline jet  into a cascading landslide of disappointment.  I was wrong. I couldn´t speak Spanish.

Fast forward to exactly two and a half months later. I have been immersed in the culture, the language, the atmospheric soup of Costa Rica. From ¨¿Cómo le amaneció?¨when I wake up to ¨Buenas noches.¨ when I go to bed, I am pummeled with vocabulary, grammar, comprehension, and pronunciation. I walk to school and read advertisements in Spanish. I sit in class and take notes in Spanish. I talk with my family, order food, watch T.V. and even browse Facebook in Spanish. The semester program will be ending in eight short weeks. I ask myself, ¨Can I speak Spanish?¨ If I really answer honestly to this question, my answer is no; I cannot speak Spanish.

At this point I must differentiate. I can communicate in Spanish. If I were to never get better than I am now, I could probably get along quite easily in a Spanish speaking country. Ticos understand me and I understand them. My level is acceptable. However, I cannot truly SPEAK.

The more Spanish I learn, the more I realize that I have a long way to go. And I have already come so far. Learning a language is the most beautiful experience I have ever undertaken. Spanish is like an oil painting. From a distance it is merely a simple picture. Grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are just blobs of color. The closer you get to the picture, however, you more you realize that the picture is so much more. It is a combination of shading, brushstrokes, lighting, perspective. It has a mood and a message. Spanish is the same. Metaphors, phrases, and voice inflection color what you say. Body language can take the meaning of a phrase and turn it into the opposite. Whether you drop a consonant at the end of a word can indicate your education and in which city you were raised. How you address someone can make or break a relationship. Add in slang and you practically have the Mona Lisa smile.

This is the task against which I set myself. My goal is not to communicate; my goal is to master an art. I may not be there yet, but I´m further than I was yesterday.


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