Back when I was in college, I had a German professor who was arguably the best Spanish professor in the college I went to.
If you took her class seriously, your Spanish was going to improve.
She wasn’t unfair in her grading and teaching but she did push you well enough.
On one particular afternoon, I remember sitting in her classroom and somehow the topic of fluency came up.
Not sure how but we got there.
And she gave her opinion that – being a Spanish professor herself (and a non native speaker of Spanish) – that she will likely never reach true fluency.
Despite, as I said, being a college professor of Spanish.
You would think she could reach full fluency, no?
Well, depends on what you mean by “fluent.”
Just the other day, I got onto a call with my sister back from Iowa.
She was playing Minecraft with her daughter and mentioning how I’d really like Minecraft also.
Back when I was her age, I was more of a RuneScape again.
My sister was mentioning to me how her daughter has learned some Spanish because, if I remember right, the guy she had her daughter with is now dating a Mexican born chick.
And, maybe for other reasons, her daughter is learning Spanish – I’m sure she’ll have to learn a foreign language in high school or college like I did.
Still, the topic of Spanish came up.
My sister also wanted to ask me “is this song Spanish or Portuguese?”
And sent me some song on Messenger that was on Spotify.
Was Spanish from what I could tell by the title.
Anyway, the topic of Spanish came up.
And my sister said to her daughter that “I am fluent in Spanish.”
Now, I didn’t disagree with her or comment on that.
But I did think to myself “well, no, not really.”
It’s a topic, no?
What is fluency?
To be fair, even I don’t know.
Nor do I really give a shit on what “fluency” technically means.
But I will give you my non-expert opinion on what fluency in a foreign language means.
My History with Spanish
Growing up in a small town in Iowa, I never needed to learn Spanish.
The only time that Spanish was ever a thing was whenever I visited this Mexican restaurant in town that is arguably the best Mexican restaurant we have.
They have been open since I was like 2 or whatever.
And, back when I was very young, they’d take me into the back and show me what the kitchen looked like.
And, as a kid, would offer me some sweet tasting snack.
To this day, the owner whose name is Maria, still offers me that snack once in a blue moon whenever I happen to be in town.
Which is almost never these days because I only visit maybe once every 6 months.
Though, in the age of travel restrictions and all, I haven’t been back in a year and half now.
I know they are getting close to the age of retirement probably so I really hope I can stop by whenever that happens.
Well, I have no idea when they will retire but I imagine it is getting within a decade since they are getting to that age, I imagine.
Still, would be nice to know what that sweet snack is called because it is dope.
I think Maria offers it to me nowadays when it happens as a way of saying “like the old days when you were young.”
It’s a nice touch.
Anyway, that’s a side topic – sorry for rambling.
Well, growing up, that was the most Spanish I ever needed was in their restaurant.
Sometimes, once in a blue moon, she might tease me and have me order in Spanish.
Or call me “Mateo.”
She still does – I don’t mind it. It’s cute.
And, funny enough, I go by Mateo sometimes in Mexico because sometimes I feel it is easier for some folks in Latin America to understand “Mateo” better than “Matthew.”
As I wrote here, sometimes folks in Latin America fuck up Matthew enough so sometimes I lean towards calling myself “Mateo.”
And it’s tradition no?
I’ve been Mateo for a long while now since my days visiting this Maria’s restaurant.
Got to keep up with tradition, don’t you know?
Anyway, that was the most Spanish I ever needed.
Until high school.
Then they made me take Spanish to graduate.
Same in college.
Then, soon enough, I began traveling through Latin America.
And the rest is history.
Now I have 6 years under my belt as of this writing in Latin America and have studied Spanish formally for 8 years more or less?
So am I fluent in Spanish yet, god damn it?
Ranking My Own Spanish
I like to tease my mom.
She sometimes says to me “Matt, come home! No more Latin America!”
Of course, I give her the BS reasons for why I got to stay.
Silly shit that she knows is nothing serious.
Once in a while, I say “No, I can’t come back! I have to practice my Spanish!”
Which, to be fair, I suspect she sniffs the BS from.
“OK, cmon gringo! Almost a decade of Spanish and still not there yet?!” she yells back in frustration.
“It’s true! Tough language! I must practice more! So I get hot girlfriend! Hot girlfriend from rural village of Bolivia! They speak Spanish, don’t you know?” I proclaim back.
Anyway, am I really in need of more Spanish practice?
Well, that question is easy – no.
I feel very confident in Spanish.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet I feel more confident in Spanish than most gringos who travel to Latin America.
Which isn’t saying much since most only spend a week in Cancun and that’s it.
Not very strong competition, huh?
Still, because of my years down here…..
And also because of my diverse experience with Spanish from most countries of the region….
I’d say that I’m alright.
I have always said – if you can understand what a Dominican is saying in Spanish, then your Spanish is good enough.
And, as you can read here, I understood a nice Dominican lady quite well!
Back in 2017 when she had her back against the wall, fingering her pussy with her black panties around her knees in a pubic bathroom, tongue out and look in her eyes that screamed to be bred by the white cock.
Did I understand her when she whispered seductively “oh papi…”
So, her being Dominican, I guess you can say my Spanish is alright since I understood her just fine in the act.
And, outside of degenerate moments, I understood her just fine.
Including other folks I met in the DR when I was there.
And that’s a serious point actually – if you can understand whatever the fuck a Dominican is saying, then you truly are doing well with your Spanish.
That’s no fucking exaggeration – they are the toughest motherfuckers I have ever met when it comes to Spanish.
Along with Caribbean Coast Colombians.
Those two are the Boss Level of Spanish.
Granted, some say Chileans are the Boss Level but I disagree.
I never found Chileans hard to understand with my minimal time there.
Minimal time to be fair.
So I stand by it in all seriousness – if you can understand a Dominican, then you have beaten the Ultimate Boss of Spanish in the last level of the videogame you have been playing called Latin America.
Anyway, so I feel very comfortable with my Spanish.
But I’m not perfect by any means.
Am I Fluent in Spanish?
I’m in agreement with my German professor on this one.
If you didn’t grow up learning Spanish at a young age as a kid, I don’t think you can be fluent generally speaking.
But that depends on how you define fluent, no?
I can understand a Dominican if I put in 99% of my brain power.
Also, when I go to shitty neighborhoods of Mexico City…
I find them easy enough to understand also.
But I am definitely not fluent.
First off, there’s probably some random ass grammar rules that I have forgotten the technicalities of.
Grammar rules that, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t important because I’m not sure if I have forgotten any rules or not.
But I’m sure there’s some random ass rule or two that I could brush up on.
And that itself is proof that I’m not fluent!
That I need to brush up on some random ass grammar rule or two.
For a truly fluent person, there is no need to brush up on the rules.
Like in English, I know the rules just fine!
If you feel the need like you need to “brush up on a rule or two,” then you probably are not truly fluent.
Even if you know that rule!
Because maybe you forget it?
But a local won’t ever forget it.
Like I won’t ever forget any basic rules of English.
And that’s really the main reason why I believe I am not fluent.
Which is that a local will always naturally know what sounds right much better than I ever will.
I don’t have that “natural ear” that a local has.
I generally know what to say and know what sounds right or not.
But I don’t have a “natural ear” that a local who has spoken Spanish all their life has.
I have it for English!
And they don’t have it for English.
But I don’t have it for Spanish.
It is what it is.
I’m not sure how to describe “the natural ear” in any other way.
It’s the ear in which, on the spot, without thinking about it, you know what is natural to say or not in every single incident all the time.
I don’t have that for Spanish.
But I also didn’t grow up with it.
So, because of that reason, I will never call myself “fluent.”
Maybe if I live here for 70 more years (entirely possible to the ire of my family back home), then maybe I can say I have “the natural ear.”
Until then, I’m not going to stroke my own ego and say that I “am fluent.”
Next, I don’t have as much of a vocabulary as a local.
I know plenty of words.
But the local will always know more.
Finally, I have a gringo accent.
Even if I learned twice as much vocabulary as the average local…
And somehow gained “the natural ear….”
And whatever the fuck else!
With a foreign accent, I will never be considered “fluent” by the locals.
In my opinion, you have to have gain a local accent.
Which, in my experience, there is the rare gringo who masters well enough the local accent.
When I was in Barranquilla, Colombia, a friend of mine named Andres told me that he met an American chick who took classes to change her accent.
He genuinely thought that she was Colombian.
So, supposedly, the local accent can be gained with enough effort, time and probably money.
But everything else?
Well, if I could gain a “natural ear,” which might be possible in 20 years, then sure!
Give me the natural ear and a local accent…
And maybe then I will say that I am “fluent.”
But do I want to be fluent?
Honestly, I’m cool with where I’m at.
I don’t feel insecure about my Spanish.
However, I do think that someday I will strive for more.
Right now, I don’t give much of a fuck about gaining any more ground with it.
But, when the day comes in which I pick a country to settle down in, I think I will eventually try to gain more ground.
I say when I pick a country anyway…
Because, in the long run, I feel I will either settle down long term in either Mexico or Chile.
No point in taking special classes for accents until I pick a country to get residency in since accents vary quite a bit by country.
Or at least that’s how I see it.
The natural ear?
I’m not worried about it – I’m cool enough with my understanding of Spanish.
Can always brush up on those obscure grammar rules but I’m not striving for perfection on that one.
Honestly, not sure if I will ever get “the natural ear” so I’m letting it sit.
Well, that’s a progress you make everyday forever!
Always new things to learn there.
Finally, the overarching message I want to put down here…
Is that, while I strongly encourage anyone to put their best foot forward to learning Spanish if they want to live here, you also shouldn’t kick your own ass for your own imperfections in Spanish.
Always have an open mind to learning more.
Keep on improving.
But don’t feel like you have to be literally fluent like a native.
Because, in my experience, it’s not likely for most gringos to ever be truly fluent anyhow.
And, even if you reach the Gates of Spanish Heaven, I can see you somehow causing Latinos down here to trip if they sense that.
Like an American Latino who comes down here and the locals nitpick the living fuck out of their Spanish because of the higher standard they hold for those types…
If you stress too much about improving your Spanish to that level, I can see you triggering a local (especially one who wants to practice English) into nitpicking the living fuck out of your Spanish.
So I’d say the biggest message is what I said before…
Be humble and always have an open mind to improving your Spanish but don’t kill yourself with stress at trying to be at the same level of the locals in Latin America.
And that’s it!
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And thanks for reading.