Spanish was always beautiful to me. Perhaps it was the words themselves, spoken like a wave of vowels undulating on the tongue and spilling out between breaths. Perhaps it was the mystery behind their meaning, the intrinsic beauty of anything foreign and unknown. All I know is that Spanish is still beautiful to me, but it has become a great and terrible beauty: Its waves of vowels are crashing to the floor and I cannot soak up the water.
I have been studying in Madrid for three months and have one month remaining. By now, I thought something would have clicked; I thought a switch would have been flipped and I would be fluent. And yet, I am still tormented by the television blaring in my host mom’s room every night, Spanish talking heads vaguely yelling at each other about even vaguer European politics. I shut my eyes tight and dig deep into my brain for the Spanish sounds I know, but soon the noises overwhelm me and become a nail-gun boring through my skull. Every morning the people on the Metro mumble colloquialisms amongst themselves, turning the oceanic Spanish I first heard into a buzzing in my ear. I want to swat it away, but I also want it to slow down, get closer, just so I can decipher each beat of the wings.
There are days when I give up, when I retreat to my English island with my Netflix, my iTunes, my UK version of bestseller books and disregard the foreign sounds surrounding me. There are times when my host mom shoves the phone in my face so I can speak to a Spanish IT guy and he talks so fast that I am paralyzed to speak. There are other times where I want to say something so badly but I don’t know how to say it, so I don’t say it at all; and when I do speak, my harsh r’s and curved vowels butcher the language I once loved to listen to. I live with a thousand misunderstandings whose time for correction passes before I’ve realized I’ve misunderstood. I am disheartened by the fact that true fluency is impossible, that there are millions of nuances and intricacies that require a lifetime to comprehend.
I know that four months is not a lifetime. But when I leave Spain in May, I will have four more months of language immersion than I had when I left Boston. I will be able to watch a Spanish movie and laugh at half of the jokes; I will be able to roughly translate for my host mom if my family ever comes to Spain to visit. I am not riding the waves of the Spanish language, but I am not drowning, either. Perhaps the beauty of Spanish has changed because I have, too.