At the community health center where I’m working this summer, about half of the patients I’ve seen have been Spanish-speaking. For the past couple years I’ve been Spanish-learning, which is to say that I took Spanish 101 in Fall 2001, Spanish 103 at the City College of Chicago in Spring 2003, and Medical Spanish 102 Winter 2004. I’ve got a fairly good hold on verb tenses and such, but my vocabulary is severely lacking.
This summer, I’ve really been able to buckle down and work on my conversational Spanish–through staff at the clinic and a new friend of mine that somehow manages to tolerate my repeated problems with past tense conjugating.
It seemed like French was an easier language to learn, but I think it’s probably only because I was younger (7th grade) when I started it, took French classes much longer, and spent a summer in Paris. I made lots of mistakes, but I got it figured out.
I’m a little more self-concious of making mistakes now, since I’m working with patients and such, but I still force myself to speak even when I know I’m a little off. And a lot of the time, when I mess up really bad, it helps me cement a word in my head permanently.
I was sitting at the front desk of the clinic last week, and a woman came up and said to me something about “una cita” (an appointment) for “papanicolaou.” Having no idea what the latter meant, and only being able to hear it, I thought she was talking about an appointment for her imaginary son, Nicolas (silent s, the French pronunciation, but hey, I was scrambling for comprehension). One of the women at front desk laughed as I tried to confirm this with the woman, asking “Oh, tu hijo, Nicolas?” The patient looked very confused, which just made me even more confused. The woman working the front desk translated for me: “papnicolaou” means pap smear.
On the bright side, I’ll never forget the word again, I can guarantee you that.