I’m often told, “You don’t look like the interpreter.” People ask me, “Where’s your Spanish from?” There’s no simple answer.
My Spanish is from Spain, where I lived for two summers–Once as a student, and once this very year as faculty for a study abroad program. It was the first place I travelled outside of the U.S., and though I didn’t come home the first time speaking much Spanish, I did spend time thinking about why I wanted to study Spanish, why I wanted to speak it, what interested me about the language and the culture. I had the chance on that first trip to Spain to feel the effort required to learn another language, to function in another culture, and I pursued it anyway. Surely that is worth something.
My Spanish is from Costa Rica, though you’ll notice I don’t speak with a Costa Rican accent. I spent an academic year at the University of Costa Rica over 20 years ago. I took not classes specially designed for foreign students, but senior-level Liberal Arts classes in Spanish, along side Costa Rican students. If you listen closely, you’ll hear some uniquely Costa Rican expressions I picked up while I was there (¡diay!). Sometimes I wonder if those expressions sound dated now.
My Spanish is from Mexico, though you’ll see on my CV that I’ve never lived in Mexico. For over a decade as a medical interpreter, I worked closely with the Mexican immigrant community in Indianapolis, holding their hands when they died, watching their children being born. When I went to Mexico City for the first time last year, it was strangely a home-coming, to a place I’d never been.
My Spanish moves me. It is from textbooks, from literature, from Julio Cortazar, and Jorge Luis Borges, and Federico García Lorca, and Sor Juana de la Cruz. It is from reading about works of art and artists, El Greco, Picasso. When I went to Madrid this summer and saw Guernica in the Reina Sofia, I cried.
My Spanish is from the two interpreter services offices where I worked since 2003, where I was surrounded every day by native Spanish speakers from all over–Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.
My Spanish is from long days in the interpreting lab, and late nights writing speeches in Spanish, in graduate school. Do you know what graduate school is like for interpreters? If you do, you’ll understand where my Spanish is from.
My Spanish comes from my own classroom, where I teach first year Spanish, healthcare terminology, and medical interpreting–Teaching all of these subjects and understanding my students’ understanding of Spanish has sharpened my Spanish in some way.
Wouldn’t you like to know where my English is from? Nobody has ever asked me that question.
If you’d like to test my Spanish, I’ll gladly participate in an evaluation that will help you know more about my language skills. Maybe you’ll be impressed, or maybe I’m not what you’re looking for. Either way is okay. If we meet socially or if you’re a student of mine and you’re curious about how I learned Spanish, I’ll happily tell you the story–Though you should be warned that I haven’t figured out how to tell the short version of that story, and I really enjoy telling the long version.
What about you? Where’s your language from?