I tend to be a little nervous when I’m meeting a native Spanish speaker. I get flustered and stutter over my Spanish—even with the words I’ve said so many times that they’re second nature to me. Depending on the evening or my amount of carefree disregard, complete thoughts and sentences unfurl with the ease of my English fluency. It’s a feeling I want more of in my life, and theoretically I know how to achieve it. I need to speak more Spanish, listen, and engage with the language despite its difficulties. It’s about improvement as opposed to a flawless performance; I just need to start small and close to the earth. I want my language to flourish with the vibrancy of the rural Honduran countryside that my mother came from, and the musical energy of my father’s small town not too far from hers. I would tend to my Spanish like delicate seedlings in my greenhouse, awaiting the seasonal shifts of blooming fluency.
I asked for a tutor in my Spanish literature course in Hamburg because I wanted to improve. It was frighteningly difficult and embarrassing to ask for help with Spanish; I didn’t want to reveal the gaps of language that were allowed to go unbridged in my upbringing. But I had spent too many years feeling embarrassed, and my German had a structure that my Spanish sorely lacked. I wanted them to be even.
I was to meet my tutor at the library; I didn’t know what she looked like. She was from Venezuela, a native speaker of Spanish, educated in the language and capable of cultivating articulate thoughts with a delicacy I could only imagine. I wondered how I would greet her. Would I approach her in English, for ease? In German, for practicality? Or in Spanish—for what, I couldn’t really say.
I don’t really remember how I picked her out among the other people at the library’s cafe; there was simply a moment of recognition for a mutual purpose. I stumbled into an energetic greeting in Spanish, and she stopped me. She asked me where I was from.
I told her that I was from the United States, but my family was Honduran. There was such kindness in her at my response; she heard the accent when I spoke. It was evident.
I eased very happily into my conversation with her then. Occasionally I felt silly and clumsy; I recalled that I didn’t know how to say whatever I wanted, and that I couldn’t arrange my sentences into neat rows like beautifully planted gardens. It’s a skill my mother has; her ease with Spanish came naturally to her because it was the native language she cared for and cultivated all her life. Spanish was my native language, too; it merely shared space with an invasive species I couldn’t tame.
My tutor helped me cut down the weeds and organize my thoughts. It was lovely to remember that Spanish was as rightfully mine as it was hers. It was the beginning of a place of confidence for me. I planted my Spanish flowers in German soil and watered them with German water. I never expected it would be just the thing I needed.
Nancy Martinez speaks at least three languages (the fourth is debatable): English, Spanish, German (and Italian). She studies literature in a desire to draw out the human experience in the structure of narratives, and couples that with her language studies to access the structures of thought in different literary traditions. She looks forward to translating her memories into different languages and perhaps working with the publication of scholarly texts after graduation.