Eliana’s View: Learning Love Through Spanish Slip-Ups

Spanish–one of the heartbeats of Costa Rica. I joke with kids, give instructions, and connect with people, all in a second language. A knack for accents gives me some native flair, but I know grammar goofs aren’t hidden by trilling my r’s. Teams marvel at my conversations with the staff, but they don’t notice my mis-conjugated verbs and mixed up pronouns. Like when I gave the time as 10 o’clock and it was 2, or my tongue twist flubs in front of large groups, mistakes are just part of the landscape when I speak.

The other day a little sweetheart ran to me and asked for “ostillas.” You want tortillas? No, ostillas! Puzzled, I found a tía and asked what was up.

The wise women spoke Spanish in both grown up and toddler dialects. She burst into laughter, then explained the request was for costillas*. It translates on any menu as ribs, but in kid-lingo means tickles.

Tickles, not tortillas. I laughed, too, but was still discouraged. I’ve been practicing for 5 years. Why aren’t I perfect by now?

img_8340Then I thought about my Spanish when I first arrived. My vocabulary was slim, and my grammar worse. I threw nouns and verbs together and got mishmashed results. It was a miracle that I could communicate anything back then, but I did.

People were kind; they were glad I was trying.

As time went by, I improved. My sentences started coming together, components working in the right order. I learned how I do, she does, they did, and we didn’t. I practiced that everything has a gender and where it goes in the action of my phrases. Little words make big differences. They are easy to forget, too. I get better, day by day.

But still not perfect.

And that’s the way I am without God. Imperfect. Incomplete. But with him, I am made new. His love offsets my flaws, physical, grammatical, and spiritual.

Even my Spanish ones.

The kids don’t see me for my errors. The tías don’t judge me for all my mess ups. So why should I?

God’s love fills in the gaps of my mistakes. His grace covers my subjects, verbs, and pronouns. His joy laughs with me over my blunders. His peace soothes my heart when discouragement comes knocking. He is working in everything, even my Spanish slip-ups.

Perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18 ESV

Kris’s note: It’s always fun to write with my girl. She brings the diamond and together we polish it. I am proud of her for pressing into a skill that doesn’t come easy and learning about love in the mishaps.

*Case in point: a beautiful Tica just explained to me after reading this, the real word is “cosquillas.” So even now we’ve slipped up, writing about slip-ups. And even grown up Spanish can be misunderstood. Thanks for laughing along with us.

How difficult is it to do things you aren’t great at? Have you ever found yourself growing in unexpected ways as you make mistakes? Leave a comment below and share your story with us.

Everyday Revelations

In Costa Rica, the care of tile floors is practically an art form.  Their love for a shiny, clean surface is evidenced by the amount of time they spend tending to the dirt and dust.  For a Costa Rican woman, the state of the floor is a display of their value and hospitality.  After all, that is the first thing you see when you enter a house.  I have heard of 4-step rituals, and the constant application of clean towel on the end of their mop stick.  Once a day is often considered a minimum frequency, and with all that practice, Ticas can accomplish it faster than gringos would think humanly possible.

So when I was waiting at the doctor’s office and saw a cleaning lady go in with a broom, I sat up and paid attention.  Because, honestly, my floors can use some help.  After sweeping, she squirted the floor with some cleanser from a spray bottle, wiped it all down with microfiber mop, and that was that.  Granted, this was not an authentic, cultural technique.  But it worked.  And it was simple enough that I could do it, too, even in the midst of our full-court press on the Spanish language.  We inherited a part-gallon of Windex and a microfiber mop when we moved into this house, so all the tools were at hand.  It was even a little fun to feel like I was cheating the pail-of-water system.  Getting happy floors was the point.

I’m coming around to the same realization with my Spanish.  Don’t get me wrong, my inner grammarian is looking forward to tackling the 15 rules of the Subjunctive.  Every day, we are adding vocabulary.  I long for the day when all of my articles and adjectives will match their nouns—which is a perfect sentence for using the 1st rule of Subjunctive, by the way.  But my head is better at stocking new information than my mouth is at using it.  This week, I packed away the perfectionism and put my emphasis purely on speaking.  I made hundreds of mistakes—on things that I already know, too—but I blew my old personal best for spontaneous Spanish out of the water.  Following another student’s lead, I wrote my notes for a presentation in English so I couldn’t read it off line-by-line. Then I actually went 15 minutes over without even touching my third page of notes.  It wasn’t the musical fluidity I hear all around me, but you know what?  It worked anyway.

Stained Glass Shadows on Tile Floors

When I was high and, um, not so dry, in a public bathroom last month, Spanish was my only option.  The lady in the stall next to me chuckled and passed me a wad of toilet paper even though I put my pronoun in the wrong place.  My conversation partner in the cell phone store smiled and corrected me at least a dozen times this week, but he encouraged me that he could always understand what I meant.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?  As I Google Translate the newest vocab list, study the 3rd Rule of Subjunctive, and plan out a 20-25 minute bible story for the upcoming week, I can feel it.  This process is working.   I may sound like a 1st grader sometimes, but I sound like a 1st grader in Spanish.  God is building this language in us like a cathedral for His glory.  Every day we lay more foundation and put up supporting rafters.  Over the course of time, we will get to frame the stained glass windows and lay the tile floors.

But when we do, I fully intend to clean them via Sweep, Squirt, Mop.