Applying Labels to Myself

I talked somewhat recently about a concern I’ve had over how far I actually take this project and if I’d ever be capable of thinking in Spanish the way I think in English, whether I could have a running internal monologue that operated in Spanish, and how it felt out of reach because when reading, my brain often ran through the gymnastics routine of reinterpreting the meaning of a sentence into English in order to derive meaning.  Part of my conclusion was that more and more parts of Spanish sentences and individual words were becoming automatic, and as a result that gymnastic bending came faster and with less focus.  With that automation, it feels less and less like I’m “reading a foreign language” and more like “I’m reading one of my languages,” it just happens to not be English sometimes.

Not a huge amount of time has passed since I wrote that blog, to the point where I haven’t noticed a significant level of improvement or anything, but that idea has been worming its way into my head, the notion that Spanish is one of my languages.  I’ve been very hesitant applying that label of ownership to myself, because I feel a lot of baggage that comes alongside that label that I’m not sure I’m willing to try and carry.

It’s interesting to think about the words we use (in English, at least) to describe language knowledge.  Sometimes they have a very fine level of precision, and other times—often the exact same descriptions—they’re damnably vague and get tied up in lots of messy, subjective understandings that can vary from person to person.  That latter part is where all the problems lie for me when thinking about assigning labels.

I am definitely not comfortable with the statement, “I speak Spanish.”  I mean, it’s a fine statement, direct and to the point, but saying it myself feels like it’s a lie.  I mean…I literally do speak Spanish from time to time.  I read out loud to myself in Spanish, I have conversations with my cats and dogs in Spanish, and I’ve had a limited number of authentic conversations with strangers.  I’m not particularly comfortable and I make lots of mistakes, but there isn’t even an adverb denoting the quality in the label; speaking Spanish, just poorly, does not contradict the sentence at all.  But at the same time, there’s an implied habitual quality to it that rings untrue for me still.  And alongside that is an assumption of holistic understanding, even if it’s not explicit to the sentence.  I speak Spanish, and I do it every day, but not enough, nor with a broad enough mastery to where that statement sits comfortably on my shoulders.

There are a whole host of permutations, each with their own nuances of meaning that come into play.  “I understand Spanish,” takes the focus away from speaking and places it on comprehension, which certainly feels more true: ask me to read anything or relate what someone is saying and I’m far more likely to be able to do it than I could hold a full conversation, but at the same time still carries that assumption of mastery alongside it.  “I am learning Spanish,” takes all the edge of the assumed mastery off the table, but ends up removing a lot of the accomplishment at the same time, sounding not just modest, but falsely modest.  Even drilling down to specifics leaves a lot of room for improvement, because saying, “I know Spanish at an intermediate level,” comes with the vagaries of what an intermediate level even means from person to person.

As I said, I’ve been hesitant about assigning myself a label.  In conversation, I’ve said things (probably with mistakes) like Puedo hablar español un poco/I can speak Spanish a little, or Estoy aprendiendo todavía/I am still learning: things to prime the other person that I’m not going to be able to charlar like the best of them, which isn’t really a self-labeling as it is a bit of social grease for the conversation.  I know I’m not going to be super interesting to talk to, they know I’m not going to be super interesting to talk to, but information can still be exchanged.  In other conversations, ones conducted in English about my language learning, I try to be as specific as possible when describing what level I’m actually at with learning and leave the labels untouched.

Which leads to the brain worm of thinking about Spanish as one of my languages, coupled along with the fact that I’ve had multiple friends and acquaintances now describe me to others with labels, and not any of the more modest ones (one of the more recent authentic conversations I had was provoked by my friend telling a waiter at a Mexican restaurant, “Oh, he speaks Spanish,” and pointing at me.  It was more awkward for me than it was for the waiter).  I’m willing to take ownership of the language now in at least a small way, and by all appearances to my friends I qualify as a Spanish speaker.  Maybe that means it’s time to start really thinking of myself as one.

Though if I’m picking a label, I’d prefer to say that I understand Spanish over speak, at least for right now.  Or maybe my friends should just stop putting me on the spot with strangers in public.  I know which option is more likely to actually happen, though.

Okidoke, let’s look at the numbers for the week.

Tuesday 1/01

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 5 chapters of La Tumba, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 1/02

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 5 chapters of La Tumba, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 1/03

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 5 chapters of La Tumba, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of Aggretsuko, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 1/04

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of La Tumba, 1 chapter of El Caballero, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 1/05

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 5 chapters of El Caballero, ~120 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 1/06

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 6 chapters of El Caballero, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 1/07

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of El Caballero, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of Maniac, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~80 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 1400 XP, 210 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 20 tv episodes, and 1 YouTube episode watched, 440 minutes
  • Total reading: 35 chapters read, 680 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 22 hours 10 minutes

This was a pretty high-numbered week.  If you can’t tell, I’m really enjoying my reread of Dresden Files and I’m finding it hard to put the books down.  This is a good thing in general, though it’s kinda getting in the way of other stuff I have going on day to day.  Ah well.  I finished La Tumba and started in on El Caballero, which I’m already about halfway through.  I’m going to be sad when I run out of these books.

I’m continuing to enjoy Little Witch Academia, which I ended up being fully sold on this week, and I’ll be watching it all the way through.  I rewatched the Aggretsuku Christmas special, like I said I probably would before long, and a new episode of Daniel San GMR came out this week.  The show that ends up more often than not getting put off is My Little Pony, which is partially due to my general familiarity with the series, but I’ve also run up against a season change this week (end of season 5, beginning of season 6, if you’re curious), and the seasons usually have two-parter episodes.  On the one hand, that makes me consider watching both of them in a day, as they’re more like a single episode, but on the other hand, I don’t tend to like the two-parters very much.  I mean, they’re okay, I don’t hate them, but they’re lower on the list of things I’d like to watch from the show, and I end up finding it easier to put off for another time.

This is more apparent than normal in Monday’s case, where I opted against watching the first part of a two-parter in favor of trying out Maniac, a Netflix original that has ~40-minute episodes.  It caught my attention, so I’ll probably give it a real go.  Next week might be a lot of Little Witch Academia and Maniac days as a result.  Though it really wouldn’t kill me to break out of the ‘single hour’ thing with listening that’s been pretty constant for a while.  After all, I am trying to put an extra level of focus on listening comprehension.

Speaking of, I have a movie queued up to watch next chance where I have some extra free-time to devote to it, but that hasn’t been available lately.  I’m feeling a little pressed thin for time these last few weeks.  Hopefully as normal life gets back into the swing of things now that the holidays are over, I’ll have a day to sit down for some movie-watching.

Well, that ought to do for this week.  TTFN.

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