I’ve come to recognise that my brain and I want different things. It wants an easy life, I want to cram it full with Spanish. It’s not a happy marriage. But we’re just going to have to stick it out.
Spanish in my head ≠ Spanish on my lips
To foil my efforts of self-advancement, the wobbly grey clump in my skull has installed a scrambling device somewhere between my ‘thought’ Spanish and my ‘spoken’ Spanish. So, when I’m quietly thinking in Spanish, I’m amazingly fluent. All the right words just seen to flock together in a pleasing arrangement, my synapses fire the required grammar at it, and I’ll be holding the most eloquent of conversations. In my head.
But out in the real world, it’s a totally different experience. I sound totally inept. The mutilated utterance that spill from my lips in the presence puzzled-looking people bear no resemblance to the harmonious conversational flow of my imaginary world.
My Spanish conversation teacher back in London, who was originally from Madrid, told me that she used to sit in front of a mirror for hours, talking to herself in English, and that this had helped her a great deal. I think I laughed out loud when she told me this, and dismissed the idea.
But lately… I’ve been thinking… maybe she was onto something… I may have to report back. Incidentally, if anyone else has tried this, I’d be very interested to hear about it.
A lazy ass gatekeeper
You see, what I want from my brain is to act a bit like passport control and customs operations at the airport. I want all the words, grammar, expressions etc. neatly lined up in single file, properly identified, tagged and content checked before being dispatched into the wild.
But no. My brain is like a garden hose riddled with punctures. Instead of a nice, steady stream emerging from the front end, the blasted thing jerks and splutters, emitting water in trickles and squirts in all directions. And as fast as I’m trying to plug one leak, ten new ones spring up.
How do I turn off a malfunctioning spellchecker?!
I’ve also noticed that my general performance pattern follows a bell-shaped curve. There’s a halting start to each conversation, I get better after ten to fifteen minutes (the warm-up phase, I suppose), I peak, and finally, as my powers of concentration start to flag, it becomes a real struggle.
Once I get to this point, my brain plays another one of its prized tricks on me: It kicks into overactive spellchecker mode. We’ve all suffered from the unintended consequences of these creative little programmes when sat in front of our computers… only last week, I was hammering the concluding part of an article into my keyboard, when I mistyped “complete”, which the spellchecker helpfully auto-corrected to “copulate”. Well, my brain pulls the same antics when I’m talking to innocent people, and, unlike when I’m at home working on my tod, on those occasions, there are witnesses. Who are cracking up.
And because I’m riled and frustrated at this stage, I will switch to English if my conversation partner has a passable command. A total cop out, I realise…