have you ever felt like a fish out of water?
I have! And not too long ago. You see my grandmother recently turned 90 (#blessed), and for her surprise birthday party tons of puertorriqueños came from Miami, Orlando, California, Pennsylvania, Tennessee (I know, right?), and the island. It was a huge gathering, and I was very excited to see everyone. There was family there that I hadn’t seen since I was three and now I’m…well, much older (you know better than to ask a woman her age). So, in the thick of it, Spanish was the main form of communication. Easy peasy for me, right? I mean I teach Spanish for heaven’s sake! Um, not so much when you are overanalyzing every little word that is coming out of your mouth, not to mention your accent to boot. Oh, Arelle.
A BUMBLING, MUMBLING, at times RAMBLING FOOL
It was distressing. Here I was so painstakingly considering my word choice, my tense, and my pronunciation that I could hardly produce any sense of conversation. I got weird looks, sympathetic pats on my back, asked to just quickly take a selfie, or told to just eat more food. I felt crummy and isolated. I was having a pity party for one. And then, I began to just laugh. Yes laugh! You see, two things had occurred:
(1) My perception was most likely much worse than what was happening. I internalized this feeling of not being good enough and feeling out of my league. Growing up, my parents, for the most part, spoke to me in Spanish. I can understand it 100%, but I usually replied to them in English. This put me in an awkward situation. I was a Puerto Rican who couldn’t vocalize in her native tongue as easily as I could in English. I remember feeling embarrassed by this. It wasn’t until late teens/early twenties that I began to see the importance of not only understanding Spanish but speaking and writing it as well. The understanding and the writing came easily, but the speaking, oh boy the speaking… How can I be authentic? How can I come across as a true Puerto Rican? You see, those were the wrong questions to ask. All I needed was to snap out of my abysmal view of my language skills and instead take risks!
(2) Which brings me to thing number two. To this day, I ask and expect my students to take risks. I ask that they just throw out self doubt and relish in their mistakes because mistakes are needed to become better in language acquisition. Instead of focusing on just letting myself speak naturally, organically, and without filters, I trudged through choppy bits of conversation. I just couldn’t get out of my head. I was too worried about appearances, and we all know how that goes. I clammed up. But then I saw the light. I saw this big mistake that I was making, and the party raged on as did my new-found confidence as I enjoyed the Despacito remix that was blaring through the playlist (curated by D.J. Arelle especially for the party).
I FLUSHED THE GOLDFISH DOWN THE TOILET