I always thought I was fluent in Spanish - that is, until I arrived in Madrid and hopped off of my flight on Iberia.
Spanish, thickly accented with Castillian lisps, fired rapidly at me, and all I could do was blink in confusion and gawk.
.......But.... I speak Spanish? I studied the language in college and high school. I am from California. Signs are written both in English and Spanish at home, and in Napa, it is never uncommon to hear Spanglish from the aisles of the grocery mart. But reality blind sided me. There I was, standing in the airport of a foreign country, realizing that I know very little of the language I was surrounded by.
After getting over my culture shock, going through the motions of CIEE Orientation, signing my lease to my new Piso, I felt like I was making progress. I am overcoming my fear of speaking, and actually enjoy learning new words, eaves dropping on conversations in the metro, and absorbing the language to the fullest extent possible. Some days, I understand everything, and feel confident participating in conversations. On others, I fail miserabley, and struggle to make distinctions between the words that slur together from the mouths of locals. A few days, I have had to lock myself in my room and surround myself with English and movies from home. Yet the majority of the time, I put in my headphones, and jam away to the top Spanish hits on Spotify, willing myself to learn the language fluently through pure auditory osmosis. Every day is a new challenge.
Fastforward to the Sunday Rastro. The Rastro is a flea market that extends for miles, offering wares - clothes, Spanish fans, hookah pipes, just name it. I perused the streets, bombarded with noises, friends greeting each other, merchants shouting out deals, smells of onions and tortillas and seafood filling the air. After stumbling across a art stand, the artist, a 93 year old woman, made her way over to me.
"Hola, como estás?" I promptly said, smiling, and feeling brave.
"Es estáis," she replied frowning.
"...Oh. Estáis," I repeated back to her. She angrily walked away from my rude American self.
And so began AND ended my lesson in the formal. I guess I am never finished learning. Next time, I know.