The Art of Language

We have a 23 month old daughter who is in a stage of extreme language development. She can say many words/phrases in both English and Spanish and is learning more every day. As with any toddler, her comprehension of both languages is more advanced than her verbal skills and she gets really frustrated when she can't express what she wants or needs. I came to the realization the other day that I understand completely what she's going through. I feel the exact same way about speaking Spanish and want to throw a tantrum sometimes, too.

In fact, our daughter's comprehension of Spanish is probably better than mine. She learns so much at the jardín that she can follow all the instruction in Spanish and is learning more about Uruguayan culture daily. Just the other day, much to our surprise, she pointed to a honey-pot on her Winnie the Pooh-themed toothbrush and said "Mate!" (the preferred beverage of many Uruguayos that is drunk from a gourd cup). As you know, we're avid coffee drinkers, so Mate knowledge doesn't come from home. (Mate gourd photo from

I studied a little Spanish briefly 10 years ago in college, but haven't used it since. While I have learned a lot being in Uruguay for the last nine months, it's been extremely helpful to work with a private Spanish tutor. It is invaluable to have private instruction for questions and very specific cultural information. We go over all the important details in a new language: How to describe what you want for a haircut, asking how to use a product at a store, why you pronounce the "J" in pajama here...  All the details that you can't learn online or in most Spanish textbooks. We are using a text called "Macanudo" which is strictly the Rio Platense dialect of Argentina and Uruguay.

My tutor was born and educated in Uruguay and lived in London for 12 years, she teaches both English and Spanish here. She is very inexpensive by US standards for private instruction- $1000 pesos/month for weekly 1.5 hour classes (about $8.50 USD per hour).

There are so many frustrating moments in learning a language by immersion, though. It hasn't happened often, but last week I had an experience where I was not understanding what a person at the doctor's office was saying. I had just gotten done speaking with an angel of a woman and had came back to the counter to verify one final question. The second woman I spoke with was completely unintelligible to me and kept speaking louder and louder, saying the same phrase, just at a higher volume. Then she started muttering under their breath and rolling their eyes shortly thereafter when I still didn't understand. It was a sad reminder of the many ugly Americans that I have seen do the exact same thing to foreigners. Note to self: avoid that person when visiting the clinic next time and have a few choice words prepared just in case ;)

While language skills are so natural for a 2-year-old, it's incredible how difficult it can be for an adult. I had anticipated that my Spanish would have progressed more than it has within 8 months. I'm still waiting for the moment when it all "clicks" and it becomes easier. That moment will come, right?