So thus far I am being humbly reminded that I know nothing of Spanish, in reality. Whatever tentative forays into intermediate levels of comprehension I might have gained 2 years ago in Perú have been lost, apparently. And to be honest, I think what I truly gained more from that trip was a self-reliancy and an openness to potentiality in others rather than any kind of deeper understanding of the language. Here in Colombia, I must begin anew, from scratch. I can’t seem to understand anything anyone says to me, which is not helped by the fact that I have seen little evidence of the supposed clear and slow anunciation that Colombian speakers are purported to have. Everyone we talk to speaks rapidly and in hushed tones, and immediately gets flustered when they are not understood. All I know is that I am going to have to work very hard in the next 2 months to get on a level where I can interact with people as much as I would like to.
Learning a language when you are in the country is much more than just grasping the rules of grammar and memorizing vocabulary—it is also learning the conventions and mannerisms, the assumptions and habits, the way that things work, the way that people interact. If you gain an understanding of these things, you don’t even really have to gain much of an understanding of the language itself, as I’d learned in Perú. You know what is expected when you walk into a cafe or restaurant. You know how to get on and off of the bus. You know how to greet a friend or stranger, and so on. And all of these things are really only comprehended through direct and continuous experience. It’s a new culture, a new system of human interaction, a new methodology of approaching everyday life.