As a perfectionist, one of the most challenging aspects of studying abroad is the constant knowledge that I can’t say exactly what I want to. We live in a world of instant gratification, so it's frustrating when things don't come as quickly as a McDonald's Happy Meal. So often I've want to take out a megaphone and yell “I’M NOT AS DUMB AS I SEEM.” Back home, I could articulate my thoughts in a respectable and, at times, intellectual manner. Here? Sometimes I struggle to even ask for the bill. I simply lack the complex grammar to speak at a level of greater intricacy.
When I first arrived, I had no idea how many words I didn’t know. There were so many words that I didn’t think were relevant, but now were popping up all the time. “How do you say sunset?” “What about mushrooms?” “What's the word for snot?” (I was sick, all right?). You'll never think you'll need the word snot, until you're blowing your body weight of snot out of your nose with the flu (for those dying to know, it’s los mocos).
Each day I felt more and more stupid. Why did I lack so many words in my vocabulary? I inwardly cringed every time I used the wrong pronoun ("She's doing well" instead of "I'm doing well") or the incorrect tense, but I just couldn't do any better.
Almost two months in, I’m still far from fluent. In fact, I'm pretty sure I’ll never be fluent … but you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to mess up and make mistakes, because there’s no such thing as ‘perfect Spanish’ or even ‘perfect English.’ As long as someone understands you and derives meaning from what you say, isn’t that perfect enough? It may not be the best or the most comforting answer to the girl who strives for perfection, but I feel happier without the enormous pressure of fluency. More still, I do notice improvements. I’m not as clunky when I speak with verbs and I feel more confident talking to native speakers. Maybe I can’t order a café with the sophisticated nuance of a native speaker, but at least I get the coffee—and, at the end of the day, isn't that what it's really all about?