More of what you want and Less of what you don’t

Any self-help guru will tell you that in order to really succeed at any life goal you must set goals and focus on them. Pretty simple right? What if you have like 15 goals?

If there’s one thing you probably already know about me, it’s that I have a lot of interests. I’m always onto something new, and honestly, I pride myself on it. I was always a curious child and read a variety of subjects in books and found myself repairing, or better said, destroying items that my brother and I had found at a local garage sale. I never felt that I could satiate my curiosity and for that I moved onto different sports, different types of music, and one day dreamed of travel. After all, travel is curiosity, and curiosity is travel.

I suppose my curious streak continued through high-school as I played basketball, cross-country and soccer, and joined a few clubs. Then onto college it continued with my choice of electives as I took courses on linguistics, ethics, psychology and economics. Well, I guess we are all curious in college right? That’s the time to study everything. To explore what you’ve never been able to grasp a hold of with people who are similarly intellectually inclined. Fortunately, I had friends who were not just intellectuals but pragmatists, and urged me to write down the things that I really wanted to accomplish.

I started out last year with a sheet of written goals. Maybe there’s 15 that include things like cooking and surfing, and then the crucial ones like Spanish and technical writing. And you know what? I had been spreading myself too thing across all these subjects.

sunset-read

I’m focusing on catching more sunsets.

I realized that if I was ever going to make progress, I was going to have to focus on just a few things, the most crucial. I suppose it all boils down to a simple phase: “Do more of what you want and less of what you don’t.” Good phrase right? If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that talk is cheap. Really cheap. We can all say we’ll do something, learn something, or be somewhere at a specified time, but unless these words are converted into daily practices, they simply remain as dead words.

Rock Climbing – Learn to Reach Higher

Last night, my friend Steve from HOPE International convinced me to go rock climbing. As I’ve written before, I’m quite afraid of heights, but persist in making that a non-issue when it comes to adventurous things: San Pedro Lake Atitlan

I had only attempted rock climbing, on a real rock wall once before in Richmond, and I’ll say that a rock climbing wall is much easier. And still pretty frightening. Our Peruvian teacher insisted we do some stretching and practice on the smaller wall with the huge crash pad. After about 5 minutes I felt like I had already exhausted my arms. How was I going to do the wall?

I feel like my own advice applies here, Just Press Call, and when Andre passed the rope thru my harness he said, “Alright, don’t think. Just do it.” For some reason, I just did it. I just climbed up. Rock-ClimbingLike a kid on a tree in the backyard. Up, up, up.

Then, of course, it gets harder. It gets really hard. Especially, when you look down. I yelled to Andre, “Ahhh! I’m so high up.” He yells back, “Well, don’t look down!”

It’s funny how simple all of it can be. And maybe that’s my favorite part about rock climbing. It’s when you don’t think you can, you just try. It’s when you think you’re going to fall, and you press in toward the wall. It’s when your hand is slipping and you don’t think you can hold on, and people encourage you to reach higher.

You reach higher.

And you find a handhold.

Just when you thought you couldn’t go any further, you find something to grab onto.

At least five times last night I found myself in this situation: my fear of heights starts to wash over me. My hands sweat, to help me grip, but seem like they were going to let me go. My forearms burn with exhaustion. For a moment, I freak out. I wonder what if I fall the 25 feet to the floor. How painful that would be. How long it would take to recover, if I ever recovered. But the crazy thing is, when I feel a point a way from falling, I know I won’t fall. So, all arguments to the contrary are invalid. The only rational thing to do is reach higher.

I made it each of the five times. It’s a terrible feeling thinking you’ll fall, but it’s so wonderful when you get just a bit higher.

I’m going to do it again.

I Was Fluent in About a Week

Ok, so one week later and I don’t feel any closer to being able to have a conversation in Portuguese. It’s interesting though. I feel like I made a small dent. Well, a really small dent. Ok, now the more I think about it, it’s barely noticable. But at the time it felt like I was making a real impact. At the time I felt like I was getting into a groove. I felt like I could totally run with a conversation in Brazilian Portuguese if I needed to.Fluency-means what you think it means

It reminds me of an incredibly common conversation I’ll have with travelers who are just starting out on their journey with Spanish, or have done a few trips into Spanish speaking countries in the past. They’ll describe a week at a resort or a hotel, and they’ll say, “Well yeah, by the end of it I was fluent!”

In reality, I can only imagine what it was like for the native Spanish speaker and the amount of effort they had to put forth to understand the individual and help them out. Probably the conversation was mostly Spanglish with a few Spanish-like words sprinkled in. They say in communication that it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what was understood. So to borrow the meme from Inigo Montoya of the 1987 film Princess Bride, “Fluency. I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

What I think happens is that during the process, or during the experience, our senses get activated to a new world, and with every step of success we feel energized and motivated. We feel like we are really picking up momentum, really connecting with the individual, and with every affirmative nod of the head, every smile, and every confirmation to a question, we float a little higher into the language atmosphere. It’s so easy to float in it, because learning a language is a social experience and when we share this new learning initiative with another, we naturally are spurred on.

What’s interesting for me is that I feel like I really now know what it takes to become fluent, and for me the meaning of that word had taken on a whole new meaning after a few years. I remember thinking I was “fluent” after three months in Guatemala, only to arrive in the Dominican Republic stumbling for a simple flow of conversation, heck even common words, and conjugations. Dominican Spanish (which I believe is much different than textbook Spanish), is very difficult to understand as it contains an incredible amount of stylistic shortcuts and slang that is native to the country. As is often the case with Spanish accents from the Carribean, it really takes an ear for it, and requires many months, ok to be fair, a couple of years to feel comfortable.
heavy-load
Learning a language takes a lot of work and it’s a sizable commitment. It’s almost like someone asking you to carry something for them as you’re headed out the house. The load is heavy at first, gets easier after awhile, then it changes shape, you get really tired, you lose hope, but somehow you get motivated again. You get some rest, and start out again, but its even heavier this time, but strangely it’s lighter than ever before. Many people come join you on the journey, and then people come along and show you how to carry it. They take some stuff out, show you how to distribute the weight, tell you to put some things on, and after awhile, you don’t even know you’re carrying it, you somehow just wear it, and don’t even have to think about having to put it on.

Then it’s a part of you, it’s a part of your life, and then you really can’t imagine living without it. I think then and only then, you start to understand fluency.

“I am a Product of Education” – (Jan ’14 Newsletter)

I hope you all have had a wonderful start to the new year. I returned to Lima, Peru soon after our annual meeting with Edify in San Diego, California where our central office is located. Peru is in the middle of summer and it’s great weather (so strange to be on this side of the equator!). We’re really excited to start doing our first microloans here in Lima in the next few weeks because schools are out for the summer and are looking to expand their operations. Schools look for financing for their construction projects during this time period and often find loans from banks that charge them very high interest rates. For us, it’s an excellent opportunity to connect with them about our small business loans and business training, and to share with them our vision for education in Peru. -Aaron

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”
- Nelson Mandela

I had the opportunity to reconnect with my colleagues in Edify early this January in San Diego. Because we work in six countries (seven, if you count our own country) we see each other but once a year. Most meetings are carried out via Skype, and the preferred method of communication is via email. Yet, we are all drawn to the organization for the same reason. As I talked with each colleague I realized that we really do believe in our mission: 

To improve and to expand sustainable, affordable, Christ-centered education in the developing world.

But why do we believe this, I thought, as we gathered around the table. I know that we use language like this all the time when we talk about improving the economic outlook of developing countries, and how we can help people out of poverty. Do we really believe that education can make a difference in this way and why does it matter that we bring Christ into the initiative of building better schools?

One night, we left the meeting rooms and went to a local restaurant to have dinner and to relax from the previous days’ meetings. I looked around the table and was amazed to see individuals from so many countries. We had Ghanaians, an Ethiopian, a Ugandan who now lives in Rwanda, a Dominican and Americans from just about every corner of our country, certainly every coast. I know this sounds like I’m about to tell a joke, but nope, that night we simply traded stories.

There’s one story in particular that I wanted to highlight. It’s the story of my colleague Godfrey, the Ugandan raised in Rwanda. I’ll summarize it now from my own notes and recollection, which will be a sneak-peek to the full story we’ll plan to release later in the year.

Earlier that day, in the morning, Godfrey shared with us his personal story as a devotional using Psalm 23.

Jan-14-News-02Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.”

(Biblegateway link: Psalm 23)

Godfrey started off by saying, (and I’ll paraphrase most of this that comes next)

“Now I’m not sure many of you have had an experience being a shepherd, (Godfrey is quite clever and quick-witted.) but I do.

My brother and I were shepherds growing up. We cared for many animals. And I love the stories of Jesus in the New Testament where he talks about being a shepherd, because I know what that is like. I especially like the part where Jesus uses an example of the shepherd who finds the young sheep and puts it Jan-14-News-03across his shoulders. I remember seeing my brother pick up a sheep and place it across his shoulders when it was weak. It is a true thing. Shepherds do that. . . . I love that story, because I have been carried by Jesus like that.”

“When I was very little, I was one of the few people I knew who was born in a hospital in Uganda. My father had a very good job at a financial institution, and we lived well. But when I was very young, my father lost his job and life changed dramatically for us. We had to move out from the city to the rural area.

There were few jobs. We were very poor. We tended animals because that was the only way we could make money. These animals were so valuable. They were our assets. They were worth more than our house. Once, when I was very sick, we couldn’t go to hospital, because we didn’t have the money, and my father would not sell an animal for the money.

“I did well in grade school. In fact, I did so well that I earned the highest marks on my national tests that I could attend an excellent private Christian school. The only problem was that we did not have money to send me there. I was so mad at my father for not selling an animal to pay for my schooling. I was devastated. I prayed to the Lord to help me study at this school. I tried everything I could to find a way to pay for the entrance fees and tuition. I spoke with Jan-14-News-04the director about a scholarship and he told me that the only way to receive a scholarship was to repeat certain grades of middle school and perform well so that I could attend high school. I was so disappointed, but I knew that this was the Lord’s plan for me and I should accept it.

“I repeated three grades so that I could attend this school. I was so ashamed to be seen by my classmates who were in the grades above me. They tease me, “Godfrey, if you are so smart, why are you three grades below us?” I kept praying to make it through because I knew that this was my way to a good education.

“Jesus carried me through this period, and I made it to high school, and I did well. I did so well that I got to go to University. I studied business and I got a wonderful job after University. My life was fully changed. I never stopped praying to my Lord, I never stopped being thankful for his faithfulness to me.

“The reason that I am standing here today is because I am a product of education. I am so grateful to be standing here before you. Grateful to the Lord for all he has done in my life, and grateful to Jesus, for his work and his life, and for his gift of salvation.”
Jan-14-News-05
[What’s equally amazing is that our Chief Transformation Officer and Vice President of Program Assessment, Mokonen Getu, was once a shepherd boy in Ethiopa. He has an inspirational story of his long journey from the pastures of Ethiopia to the halls of higher education. He got his PhD in International Development from the University of Stockholm, Sweden. His amazing journey is detailed in his autobiography. (You can read more about him in Edify’s 2013 annual report.)]

———-
I am still in awe when I think about Godfrey’s story. When I hear about the valleys he walked through to make it to where he was, it makes me proud simply to know him and have him on our team in Rwanda. I told Godfrey how amazing his story was. He is very humble and approaches everything with a smile. He brushed off my compliment and said he enjoyed my presentation on Peru.

A little later on in the meeting he told us that he wants to get more involved at his church. While he does music and Jan-14-News-06evangelization, he’d like to get back in the pulpit. (What a guy!)

But right now, let me return back to us sitting around the multi-international table at the restaurant:

Later on in the meal Godfrey turns to me and says, “Aaron, may I ask you a question? I need your help.”

(I wondered what came next.)

“It is my first time in America and I think right now I want to order a hamburger. But we are at a fish restaurant. I think I should order fish.”

“I think that’s a good call. Do you like fish?”

“Yes, I like fish. In fact, I ate shark in Colorado. Have you eaten shark?”

“Wow, you had shark? How was it?”

“It was good. It tastes like chicken. But I don’t think I want shark right now.”

“How did you eat shark in Colorado?”

“We made a stop for Edify for two days for some meetings, and I got to visit a University.”

I tried not to laugh at the strange connection of those statements, and when he saw me smile he said,

“Yes, it was strange. I believe there are no sharks in Colorado. Nowhere close.”

We both laugh about it. I walk him through a few “American” choices. He continued later telling me that part of the reason for the stop is for him to see the university and sign up for the online MBA program at Colorado Christian University.

“It is such a great opportunity Aaron. I am so excited to start. I love education.”

. . .

Godfrey’s story and Makonen’s story are yet more reminders of why I work for Edify, and why I am excited to open the program here in Lima, Peru. Their stories are incredibly unique, yet share so many common threads with stories of adults I’ve met throughout the past three years working in Latin America. To believe there is hope, to believe that there is a God who has a plan, to believe that there was a man Jesus, the Great Shepherd who walked among us – who carries us when the burden is too great – is to know that Jan-14-News-07there truly is a pathway out of poverty.

I know there are still millions of children here in this country of Peru who walk through valleys and are looking for a pathway up and out.
. . .

I pray that we would all see the value in education, and that we would find ways to take advantage of the opportunities that we have.

Blessings to you all,
-Aaron

aroth@edify.org
Skype: aroth.edify
Web: www.AaronRoth.net

Today I start learning Portuguese

While planning is helpful, but sometimes I’ve gotten much more mileage out of simply starting. The whole “ready, fire, aim” approach than wasting too much time. So to that end:

brazil-flag-small

Hoje eu começar a aprender português.

Hoy empiezo a aprender portugués.

Today I start learning Portuguese.

Look over to the right underneath my Spanish badge from LingQ. I put a new one with Portuguese. Went through a page and tried to learn some words. Turns out I already know a few since I know Spanish. I know 12 now.

Ordem e Progresso.

Orden y Progreso.

Order and Progress.

They Destroyed My “Up” House

Up-House-MirafloresUp-House-MirafloresI had a clear view of the house like the one they used in the movie “Up” where I used to live in Miraflores, Lima. I mean look at this house. It’s a spitting image of it there, like a sitting duck amidst its giant neighbors. It was a house from the late 60′s, maybe early 70′s with a classic architecture. If you walk around Miraflores you’ll see some of these houses remaining. They are becoming more rare because of the current trend of building 10 floor apartment or condominium buildings. Some of these property values for the houses can go for over $300,000 and even up to $500,000, my guess is that the sale of a well-located property can fetch up to a few million dollars.

up-movie-posterWhen you look at my “Up” house here posted, doesn’t it look so out of place next to the towering apartment buildings next-door? I kept thinking that it was only a matter of time before the owners sold their property, and yet another classic house would succumb to the fate of other well-located houses in dense residential areas. It’s sad to me thinking about the loss of another house because I feel like this district loses more of its charm with every sale of a quaint residence. But if I were the owner, what would I do? Would I do the same?

I initially thought this house just looked like the house from the movie, but I wonder if the owner found him/herself in the same shoes of the protagonist. Maybe after the passing of their spouse, they wanted to just fly away and visit some faraway lands to fulfill a lifelong promise? Or maybe modern life had become to irritating with the worsening traffic and hustle up-house-miraflores-02and bustle of the burgeoning economy? Or they used the funds to help their children go after their life-long dreams?

It was strange to me because just six weeks ago the house stood their on it’s on, and now it’s gone. Slowly gone the way of the buffalo. And I expect in another six weeks, another small portion of Miraflores will lose its character to yet another residential developer.

“Assembly of the Arrival” (Fall ’13 Newsletter)

Merry Christmas family and friends, I hope you all are enjoying the Christmas season back in the States. I’ll be making a brief visit into Virginia, before our annual Edify meeting and then heading back down to Lima, Peru in early January. I decided to assemble all the events of this past fall into one newsletter instead of sending out monthly updates because it was easier to communicate a summary of the information that was pretty much related over the past few months. It’s now summer here in Peru and schools and university are on their summer break. How strange! Blessings, -Aaron

I moved to Lima, Peru in mid-august to start the Edify program. As you know, over this past year, I had done a feasibility study for Edify in four different Latin-American countries, meeting with 10 different microfinance organizations, visiting almost 70 private schools, and conversing with hundreds of school leaders. Currently Edify works in six countries making small loans to low-cost Christian schools to help them with their construction projects like classrooms and computer labs and provide them business training to improve the school and the quality of education.

Aug-12-News-06As an organization, we decided to enter Peru based on the like-minded nature of potential Christian microfinance organizations, and the ability to have significant impact with education in an empowering country environment. We wanted to find a country that was safe to do business in, one that was open to the kind of Christian missional work we do in other countries, and one where the economic need was evident. After spending almost two months in Peru in late spring, we felt we had enough information to make the decision on the four countries in the study, and in July, we decided to set up shop in Peru.

After spending two years in the Dominican Republic, I felt like I had a good idea of how the Edify program works, and was very excited to open a new country for Edify. Sometimes it feels easy to start something for which you already have a template, and then you realize that bringing this to a new country and a new context requires a lot of patience and a tremendous amount of teamwork to make it happen. It’s interesting to me now to see how missions organizations and non-profits reach Sept-13-News-01the scale that they do. For example, the largest non-profit in the world, World Vision has 44,500 employees and works in 97 countries. I compare that with setting up this one partnership in Lima, Peru and I think of the monumental work World Vision undertook to reach their current level. I know now first-hand that it takes a lot of introductions, a lot of meetings, phone calls, visits, emails, travel, discussions, contracts, new connections; a whole lot of manual assembly to put the pieces together. That’s been the theme of this past fall: trying to tie it all together.

It’s been amazing to see how the Lord has been working here Lima, Peru. Early on, I connected with a local Christian organization called “Christian Development of Peru” that offers training and educational resources for Christian schools and pastors throughout Peru. They helped connect me to two different Christian school organizations that in total have 34 schools, and invited us to Sept-13-News-06participate in their fourth annual teachers conference entitled, “Evaluation and Sustainability for Educational Projects.” On October 29th,  we as Edify presented almost three hours of training to leaders from 20 different schools on how to be sustainable as a low-cost Christian school and how to improve local community impact. While we were hoping for closer to 50 schools, it was still a great success to be able to plant our feet here in the community.

We met our facilitator to do our business training through the church I’ve been attending, Camino de Vida, (www.caminodevida.com). I had connected with the pastoral staff and introduced myself and our mission for Peru back in April. As the months progressed, they became instrumental in helping us launch our program here, introducing us to individuals who work in Christian schools, broadcasting, government, and those in the private sector. There is really no other way I would have been able to meet such quality people, without the kindness and hospitality that the Peruvian leaders have shown us over the past few months. As we move closer to doing our first loan here with the Sept-13-News-04local Microfinance organization, Camino de Vida is waiting to introduce us to even more schools that could benefit from the work of Edify. What a great model for building a new program!

But I’ve been very careful about making personal visits to schools that have invited me to see their school. As you can imagine, it’s incredibly important for the long-term sustainability of our program that we work with local leaders to develop relationships with schools, and second, I don’t want to give off the impression that I’ve come to their school to prepare a huge check for a donation, or am trying to work out the logistics for a big shipment in a few months. That’s not what we do, and indeed, it wouldn’t be good for their overall success. It’s the basic principle of a hand-out or a hand-up. I know they could use any donation, be it monetary or equipment based, but if they keep relying on donations for their operation, they are going to be stuck in that cycle of waiting for the next individual Sept-13-News-08to walk through the door, and we will soon run out of resources to donate to all the schools we want to work with. It’s important to maintain a consistent message of partnership and sustainability.

Certainly, one of the worst things I could do is promise something I cannot deliver on. I’ve heard too many stories from school proprietors that told me about Americans who had come to visit two or three years ago, even five or ten years ago, and the people never delivered what they said they were going to do. I remember talking with a friend who spent a few months in Burkina Faso (An economically poor country in West Africa, and a new country for Edify this past year) and he said that “While we all have good intentions to help others, while we may have pure hearts, you have to think about it from their perspective. If you’re the only foreigner they’ve seen and you even hint at Sept-13-News-07something amazing that they would never in their life be able to afford, they are going to start hoping you’ll deliver, and treating your suggestion as a promise. Don’t break a promise to them.”

So as far as our progress is concerned, we’ve been proceeding slowly, patiently, making the right introductions, presentations and building up relationships in the first few months. We want to make sure we do this right. And when we are ready, and when the local organization is ready we’ll be excited to follow-through on what we promised to deliver on. It has been a period of expectation and waiting and a lot of assembly. That’s kind of what this season is about right? Awaiting the promise of something to come. That’s what they were waiting for before Jesus was born 2,000 years ago, and then he arrived in the season prepared for his arrival.

I pray that your Christmas season would be filled with the good and healthy promises, and that you would appreciate family and friends and the arrival of Christ to the world.

Blessings,
-Aaron

I too have lived through prohibition

al-caponeLast Sunday was election day in Peru and to ensure that everyone showed up and participated they prohibited the sale of alcohol from midnight on Thursday until Monday. Well, voter participation is a kind phrase to describe it. If you didn’t show up you would have received a hefty fine. That’s an interesting thought: exercise your democratic ability or get fined for being lazy.

I thought this political move banning the sale of alcohol would usher in a boatload of bootleggers, crafting their concoctions in musty basements in bathtubs, with bare light bulbs swinging overhead. Instead, restaurants and bars that depended on the income from sales of liquor, beer, and wine, simply shut down. It felt like prohibition foto-1  a ghost town walking through Miraflores. In the section where I live, which is usually inundated with loud music and patrons congregated around the 12-15 local establishments Sunday through Sunday simply felt like a ghost town. Discarded plastic bags rolled through like tumbleweeds.

Talking with people around town, most people felt like it was a non-issue. Many Peruvians had taken the time to spend with family and friends. They had used their Friday off to catch up with people they hadn’t seen in awhile. They just couldn’t go to restaurants with their loved ones. That left us, the foreigners, ones with no local ties, to stick together and forage for food. Well, not really. Groceries were still open, and yes, some restaurants. In all, it was just an odd time.

prohibition foto-2It wasn’t crazy, there weren’t raids, nor bounties placed on the heads of the top crime families; it was just quiet, everywhere. And not like the “quiet, a little too quiet” line that hints at something big about to unfold, it was simply boring, and inconvenient. Many of the regular restaurants my friends and I would go to were closed so we walked to other areas. Closed as well. I kept wondering, “Does the prohibition of the sale of alcohol really determine that much of a business’ revenue?” I suppose it does. Because nothing was open. Sad right?prohibition foto-3

In sum, I had an interesting takeaway. I agree completely with the encouragement of people to vote, even suggestions to limit or curb the use of alcohol so that people come out and vote, but couldn’t they have held the elections on a Tuesday? Maybe they considered that doing so would impede the economic machine by having it during a day of work, but how much of the economy suffered from limiting restaurants/bars/grocery stores for three whole days?

Economic questions yes. And complicated too. It’s a weird nexus of political, economic, behavioral and religious intentions and conflicts.

I took the DELE C1 exam this past Friday

Over the past couple of weeks I had been studying for the DELE  exam (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera) which is a language proficiency test done by the Instituto Cervantes of Spain. Specifically it’s from the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte de España. They tell me it’s not as hard as the TOEFL, but still, this was one of the more challenging exams I had taken. Basically, the C1 level is one step below the C2 level (native language ability) and it’s supposed to ensure that the non-native Spanish speaker can do the following things:DELE exam

  • Understand a wide range of long, demanding texts and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Express themselves fluently and spontaneously without much obvious effort to find the right expression.
  • Be flexible and effective in the use of language for social, professional and academic purposes.
  • Be able to produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns , connectors and cohesive devices.

It’s split up into four tests:

  • Test 1 : Reading comprehension and use of language (90 minutes).
  • Test 2: Listening and language use (50 minutes).
  • Test 3: Integrated skills . Listening comprehension and written expression and interaction (80 minutes).
  • Test 4: Integrated skills . Reading comprehension and oral expression and interaction (20 minutes) ( 20 minutes preparation ) .

I spent a total of eight hours on a Friday at the Universidad de Ricardo Palma here in Lima, Peru. I finally got back to my apt at about 9:15pm. It was a lot of work not only to take the test, but the whole period of preparation to learn the structure, practice the components of the structure, and perform well.

Overall, I think it’s a good exercise. I really do think if someone possesses a high level of Spanish language ability then they should be able to do well on the exam, really with little problem. What struck me throughout the process is just how much a few things really matter:

  • Deep Understanding
  • Critical Thinking
  • Accuracy

It’s really a process of sharping a language so that you know exactly what a text/conversation/argument is saying, what it’s not saying, and when someone asks you a specific (non-obvious) question in relation to a complicated subject, you can respond with a nuanced, well-thought out response. That’s not just a Spanish skill, but really an overall skill for approaching any subject with clarity, balance, and precision. Great practice I say, but wow, is it incredibly difficult in a foreign language.

I’m extremely relieved to be done, but what remains are two primary concerns. One, that I won’t pass and I’ll think for some reason that 3.5 years in Latin America hasn’t meant anything and that I’m not good at Spanish. The other is that I will pass, and within the day I’ll find myself completely confounded by a conversation or situation. Either way, they both tell of the same thing – that an exam score doesn’t determine proficiency of the test-taker. It’s really about how well that exam was able to unearth those vital skills of of understanding, critical thinking and accuracy.

You don’t need an exam to help you do that, but it sure does light a fire under you!

Words I’ll Never Understand

When I started learning Spanish in Aug. of 2010, I would often stumble through learning new words. They looked so strange to me, and then even more surreal was how these words somehow lined up with an English equivalent. “How could that word mean this word?” I used to mutter. And then, in a stranger turn of events, I’d soon realize that the definition for one Spanish word wasn’t just one word, in fact there could be two words, maybe three, maybe even four that could suffice.

words-ill-neverThen I realized that each Spanish word could be a part of a set of words to describe something. Take for example the word “said” as in “He said he’d be back in 10 min.” We realize that there are a multitude of ways that someone can “say” something in English.

Did he simply respond, did he mutter it, or was it just suggested? Maybe he mentioned it, or no, he announced it, but how alluring would it be if he revealed it?

So then the obvious follow-up question is when and how do I use these new-found words. Ah there’s the nuance. Which in Spanish is “matiz.” How do we know when to use what we need to use? I guess that’s the magic of language ability. We just know.

Soon, I got over the confusion of words with multiple meanings, the inherent nuance, and of course the difference between slang and what could easily offend someone, but what I never got over is something so fundamental, so simple. I realized that there were words that I would never truly understand, not because of their definition, that part is easy, nor of their use, because context will help you out, but of how we come to know and understand words as they reflect the life we lived, our joys and our sorrows, and how we choose to approach a new day.

How can we understand words like these:

innocence.

regret.

carefree.

loss.

excitement.

love.

pain.

renewal.

These are words I thought I knew and used, but realized they were words I’ll never understand . . .

———–

I’ve always been a fan of this song:

“See I’m all about them words
Over numbers, unencumbered numbered words
Hundreds of pages, pages, pages forwards
More words than I had ever heard and I feel so alive”