Speaking a Foreign Language: Chaos & Control

Tonight I found myself at yet another event, full of people, but completely isolated and alone. I went to what I thought was a photography exhibit in a bookstore, which a new acquaintance had told me about. Instead, the event was more of a “talk” than an exhibit — the photographer was speaking about his new book of photos. The photographer was speaking in Spanish about his new book of photos. Fortunately for me, since I don’t speak Spanish well enough to understand a lick, there was at least a five minute video that displayed some of the photographer’s beautiful photos of this mystical island.

I was happy that I recognized many of the places and icons in his photographs — Culebra, the Flamboyan tree,  the Indian caves, the window caves, El Yunque (the rainforest). I have been so lucky to experience the natural beauty of Puerto Rico up close. Last week I went to the forest reserves — it was a place like no other. I was in the forest with winding and twisting trees wrapping around a still stream of water, covered in layers of green, yet I could still hear the waves of the ocean crashing to the shore. Magical.

forest reserves puerto rico

Sometimes I wonder what it is exactly that I’m doing here. I have difficulty explaining to people why I moved to San Juan. There was a plethora of reasons I suppose. And I still don’t think of this move as permanent, even though my cat reluctantly agreed to make the move and is here keeping me company. Even though I am probably going to buy some sort of vehicle to get from point A to point B pretty soon. Even though I miss my belongings, still in storage after a year and a half, and wonder how and when I should bring them here. Even though I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live right now.

But here I am. Slowly making new friends. New business connections. Very slowly learning Spanish. Getting settled in.

black sands puerto rico“Chaos is what we’ve lost touch with. This is why it is given a bad name. It is feared by the dominant archetype of our world, which is Ego, which clenches because its existence is defined in terms of control.” ~Terence McKenna

Last night I met a woman from Russia. She is maybe in her 20’s. Her English was very good, but I felt a tinge of jealousy go through my spine when she was able to order water with lemon in perfect Spanish at the restaurant we were dining at. Three languages!! I have problems with my native tongue. How will I ever learn Spanish? Especially in a country where everyone CAN speak English and I am able to fall back on my English so easily?

“Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.” ~Chuck Palahniuk


My problem with learning the language really isn’t that I am incapable. And most likely, if I tried, I would probably find that I *can* speak it a little bit.  The problem is that I’m shy and I feel embarrassed and that speaking in Spanish may cause me to be a little out of control, because I may not know exactly what I’m saying — I may say something the wrong way, I may cause more confusion than is necessary or I may waste someone’s time. Being the introvert that I am, all of these things inhibit me from just cutting loose and giving it a go.

I used to be very shy at small talk. I was afraid that I might say something clumsy or bore people with common pleasantries. I’m not so bad at it anymore and I can usually think of something to say to a stranger in an elevator or to someone while waiting in line. Maybe my hesitations with Spanish stem from a similar root problem — that unless I know exactly what I’m going to say and how to control the conversation, I don’t want to say anything at all. A-ha! THAT must be why I like writing so much — I can control the conversation!

But why do I always need to have control? There is nothing wrong with embracing chaos and, from my experience, chaos can bring many wonderful gifts and insights and beauty. I am convinced of this truth; still I have trouble forcing it on myself and living by that philosophy.

Have any of you other introverts had a similar problem of feeling isolated in a foreign country? Any tips you can share on learning a language? Are my more extroverted friends able to offer advice or motivation on embracing chaos and/or living freely?

leaves on still water forest reserves puerto rico

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2 Responses to Speaking a Foreign Language: Chaos & Control

  1. neill says:

    No tips, but both extended stays in Paris left me with that feeling. And yet I’d go back in a heartbeat. As much as I hate feeling out of my element, it makes me feel fully alive.

  2. Cara says:

    We’re not great at Spanish, but we can get by in many situations. Adam is definitely more the speaker than I am. I tend to be better at the translating. I also have that fear of sounding like an idiot…

    I would suggest to start speaking Spanish in controlled situations where you know most of the vocabulary that could come up – like buying something at a market. Retailers have an incentive to give you a chance to speak Spanish – they want to sell you things.

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