Discuss culture, living, traveling, relocating, dating or anything related to Latin America, Mexico, or Central America.
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I was born in Tenerife in 1975. Tenerife is part of the Canary islands that are next to Morocco and belong to Spain. By the way the climate there is the best in the world. I'm surprised no one ever mentions them. But anyway. I've been living in the UK since 1977, when I was 2. Apart from a period of about 9 months when I was very young, plus a few 2 week holidays, I haven't really ever lived there. However when I was there for 9 months I went to school there briefly.
I speak spanish fluently. I've always spoken spanish at home although I've always spoken english with my sister for as long as I remember.
My problem is this. Every time I contemplate the idea of living in any spanish speaking country, as exciting as it might be, when I picture myself there day to day, I get very self conscious. This is because although I'm fluent, because I've not been raised in the place when I was born, my vocabulary is limited.
I can watch the news in spanish, I can watch TV in spanish, I've read a couple of novels in spanish, and I can read a spanish paper. When I was about 14 I was sent to some school to do classes in the evening with some other kids from various spanish speaking countries and I had no problems understanding anything. What I'm saying is that I'm generally fluent, but there are lots and lots of gaps in my vocabulary (there are a few gaps in my grammar too but not many), which if I was to live in a SpSpC, I would constantly run into problems and misunderstandings.
Also, I have a very strong Canary islands accent and a very fluent spanish accent in general (minus the TH sound), which makes me sound more fluent than I am, so imagine how embarrassing it would be to hear a simple word that I don't happen to understand, then I say huh? then the other person will think I'm being an ass because they'd think there's no way I could possibly not know what the word means. Also there are probably lots of idioms and expressions that I won't understand. I would look like an idiot. This has always bothered me. I know it's not my fault but I'm ashamed.
I can't talk about business, science, politics, or much beyond everyday normal conversation. Sure, there are things that I would immediately understand once I hear them, like if I watch the news and see the pictures or get the context, but I wouldn't be able to come up with the words myself.
As for talking to girls, that would be an issue too. I've done it on dating sites and I did OK but I don't know if I could keep it up.
Another strange thing is that there are even words and terms that I do understand, but because they are words that I've only heard others use and never had to actually use them myself, it would be weird for me to use them as I would feel like I'm acting out of character. I never ever use the future tense in spanish (i.e. comere, ire - I always find a way around it instead). I don't know why. I know it, but I just don't use it. It's very weird.
When I speak spanish, I always speak confidently but that's hard to maintain when I run into problems. All of a sudden I have to try to find a way around it or look stupid.
I have hangups about this. Here I am in the shitty UK, wanting to get out, possibly to a spanish speaking country, but if I go to one, I'll feel like an idiot and people will look at me like I'm doing it deliberately. I don't mind explaining that I wasn't brought up surrounded by spanish speakers (other than my parents), but I really don't like the idea of having to constantly do it, especially if I have to deal with someone official or if I get into a dispute. I don't know if I would make it in a spanish speaking country.
I know that it would only take me maybe 6 months to a year to get rid of this problem but that's still a long time to be walking around as the town moron who may or may not be winding everybody up.
Another thing is that I think in english. It's become part of my personality. I don't know if I could think in spanish. My thoughts would be limited. I've tried it and although it feels natural, it's like I have the vocabulary of a baby when I think to myself. It would be odd to walk around thinking in english all day and to then keep having to use the other part of my brain every time I need to speak to someone.
This problem would seriously limit my ability to express the whole of my personality. Occasionally even when I talk to my mum I feel like a child if I have to say something very complex (in terms of meanings, relationships between things, theories, ideas, abstract stuff). It's embarrassing. She understands, and if necessary she'll say what she thinks I want to say, and it gives me a false sense of confidence because I know that eventually I'll be understood.
She always says don't worry about it, I know what you mean and you can always find a way to get your point across. But that's just not good enough for me. I need to be able to communicate properly, not play guessing games. People don't have time for that. No one else would help me out. They'd just look at me and think what's wrong with this weirdo?
Am I the only one with this problem?
It seems to me like you are worrying about this way too much. Just tell people you grew up in the UK and your Spanish isn't perfect. I am sure it isn't a big deal at all. And after living in a Spanish speaking country for a while you will be amazed how quickly your Spanish will improve. I didn't speak much Spanish before I went to Peru (I am not a native speaker) but once I was there I learned a lot quickly just by listening and talking to people. Also, I'm sure you know this, but it is perfectly normal for people from one Spanish speaking country to sometimes not understand the local slang and/or accent in another country. There is quite a big difference between Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Latin America, for example. Even in South-America alone there are HUGE differences between countries. Here is a funny song that explains what I am talking about
I'm an American and I live in a Spanish-speaking country. Generally no one will never approach anything like native fluency with any language learned in adulthood. I will always have an accent, although I learned how to reasonably pronounce Spanish sounds, and I don't sound like gringos who are clueless and don't even know that letters are pronounced differently in Spanish. I will also never have the rich set of associations that I have with English and it's TV shows, music etc., with any language learned in adulthood. I do get complimented on my Spanish though, which is funny to me because I know it's bad. I think they are complimenting the fact that I at least made a reasonable effort to learn it. So I will never sound like a native speaker, but I can get to the level of "it's cool that you are a gringo but you can say a lot of things in Spanish, or Hindi, or whatever."
As far as dating, I am awkward as hell on dates. I can't say the range of things I can say in English, so it leaves some gaps, buy I can still flirt and make people laugh. My basic dating approach is that I present who I am and what I am about, and if they are not ok with that then they get filtered out very quickly. In general it is not a problem.
Your situation is different, everyone's is different, but anyway this is how I see it.
Why not try to pass yourself off as a non-native Spanish-speaker who learned very well but studies to fill in the gaps?
A helpful guide:
Expatriation Apocalypse! The Guide to Expatriation for the Broke and Hopeless (Kindle)
Expatriation Apocalypse! (Paperback)
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