“If you leave Costa Rica without significantly improving your Spanish skills, I’m going to…”
“What? What are you going to do? And just how much is ‘significantly’? Are you going to measure that in imperial or metric units?”
“Shut up. You know what I mean.”
* * *
At the request of my former selves, here is is an approximation of the degree of proficiency I have achieved after living and studying abroad for one semester:
I can travel alone with ease wherever I want in Costa Rica by whatever means.
I can ask for directions and understand them when they’re given to me.
I can chat with a Tico peer.
I can chat with a few Tico peers.
I cannot participate in a large group of Tico peers.
I often have to ask my Tico peers to repeat things two or three times.
I understand most professors without a problem (the exception being Gustavo Vargas, who is objectively guilty of mumbling).
When thinking back on conversations, I sometimes forget what language something was said in.
I can normally make myself understood.
I am often constrained by my limited vocabulary, but I can normally get my basic point across by using circuitous wording and asking for help (“What is the verb that means to make this noun?”).
I can go to the doctor, explain the problems with my knees, answer his questions, ask him questions, and understand his treatment instructions.
I can file a police report for an armed robbery.
I can negotiate with people who might be puppets of a Nicaraguan gang or might just be terrified girlfriends of innocent men.
I can talk to a lawyer and file a retraction of a police report.
I can explain how a square perceives a sphere moving through his plane.
I can survive academically, thanks in large part to professors who loosen their grading standards for me or let me reschedule tests or presentations that I didn’t know I had to do that class.
I cannot thrive academically.
I can chat with taxi drivers, guides, and bartenders.
I often have to pretend to understand more of what a taxi driver is saying that I really do.
I can get the gist of large sections of Art History text without looking up any words.
I can fully understand the majority of an Ecology text.
I heavily rely on a bilingual dictionary to write my essays, and I write the more conceptually challenging ones in English first then translate them.
I can work with a bureaucrat to make sure typos are taken out and scientific passports and a research permit are approved.
I cannot overhear conversations. Even if I try, I generally have trouble understanding speech if I cannot see the speaker’s face.
I met some people today that–I think–for a few seconds–were–maybe–confused about my native language and/or that of my parents.
* * *
My brilliant, hardworking, fearless little sister studied abroad for the entirety of last year, and she said one of the most annoying things upon returning was trying to answer the question “So you’re like totally fluent now, right?” I hope that this progress report, crude though it may be, will help me in answering the questions I will surely face from others, and from myself.