Nuestra Nivel de Español

A lot of people have been asking about our level of Spanish, so I figured I would give y’all an update about it here. As most of you know, our level of Spanish was at about a zero upon arrival in the country of México. I luckily had studied three years in high school and grew up in Southern California, which gave me enough of a base to communicate basic (and I mean basic) Spanish on our honeymoon in Panama. Neal on the other hand, knew only how to say hola and me llamo Neal before arrival to México. We were pretty nervous to learn a whole new language and depend on that language for daily life; but we were also really excited to add a whole new language to our relationship and our resumés.


We lived in Querétaro for our first three months in México where we survived Pre-Service Training. Any fellow Peace Corps Volunteer can back me up by stating that survived is the correct verb choice. For those first three months, our job was to learn! We learned about Peace Corps approach to development, PACA tools, technical environmental words in Spanish, and just plain old Spanish. On the most arduous days, we had 5 hours of Spanish class; on the easiest days, just three hours. We even had Spanish class on some weekends! All that to say that after our training, we had to pass an oral test called the Language Proficiency Interview (or LPI). In order to swear-in at service, we had to receive at least a mark of Intermediate Low. We both passed, which was incredible feat for us! Big shout-out to Neal who went from zero Spanish to Intermediate low in just three months!


So we got to swear-in and move to Puebla where we grew in confidence and comfort of the new language. Our office speaks 100% Spanish (with the exempt of our host sister who speaks English very well), which means that in order to communicate with our new co-workers we too would have to speak Spanish. Learning to type on a Spanish keyboard was a feat in of itself, not to mention facing Spanish spell-check. Slowly but surely, we gained enough confidence to start hosting meeting and the fear of making mistakes just melted away. Our colleagues help explain things to us or explain things in different ways. If all else fails, having meetings using Google Translate helps clear things up.


During this time, we were living with an awesome host family who helped us immensely with just about anything that you could imagine. We are so grateful for the time we had with them and now we live in our own apartment. Let me tell you, searching for and negotiating an apartment in Spanish is much harder and more intimidating than I ever imagined. Speaking Spanish over the phone is the worst, especially when you’re talking to a grumpy Sin embargo, we happened to score a wonderful apartment under our budget!


All in all, we are learning new words everyday. We have stopped translating in our heads and are able to just speak with fluidity. Still, we make silly mistakes like thinking that the opposite of knots (nudos) would be desnudo, which in fact means naked. Or upon explanation what bouldering is, we say sin ropa which again means naked, when we really wanted to say sin cuerda (without cords). Or even worse, the words casada (married) and cansada (tired) are humorously interchangeable and often get mixed up after a full day of Spanish.


Fig. 1: How you think it will be upon startingFig. 2: How it really is

Fig. 1: How you think it will be before you start
Fig. 2: How it really is


We’re still learning, poco a poco, but have much more confidence and ability than ever before. For a real-life example of our Spanish, you’ll just have to come visit.



Chelsea Beth


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