There I was, on my first trip abroad, eager to take in all of Italy, yet within minutes of arriving I was overwhelmed. All because I tried to buy a bottle of water.
I didn't know Italian, and I had just exchanged dollars into lire. Clutching my book of handy Italian phrases, I stumbled trying to order.
Meanwhile, two people cut in front of me in line, and who knows how much I paid for the water.
I felt foolish, so I let my friend, whose fluency in Spanish proved similar enough to Italian to get by, do the talking.
Here in South Florida, I've seen non-English speakers in the same situation, relying on others to communicate for them. If they fumble speaking English, often they're met with eye rolls.
Last year, I started studying Spanish. Through Conversational Spanish at Broward Community College, I'm seeing just how much easier it is to criticize someone who doesn't speak your language than to learn a new one.
Upon entering class, the Venezuelan-born teacher asked me in Spanish how I was doing.
I remembered some basics from high school, so I replied in Spanish.
She quickly issued her warning: I'm going make you sweat in this class.
I want to be challenged. But the perspiration hit as she started speaking in super-fast Spanish. That familiar deer-in-the-headlights feeling consumed me. How am I going to do this when people talk so fast?
A few classes later, it was still intimidating.
I get nervous when trying to speak Spanish. I tried practicing with a Cuban co-worker as well as with my best friend, who is Peruvian.
I can express basic ideas very slowly, but they respond so quickly. This is tough.
I ventured to a restaurant where the owners are from Madrid, and tried to practice. I stumbled and got a bit flustered.
"No te preocupes," he said, telling me not to worry, to slow down and try again. As I went along, he corrected my grammar in a friendly way.
How interesting that non-English speakers often get huffs or glares in similar situations rather than a helping hand.
Something strange has started happening when I am near two Peruvian friends. I start speaking Spanglish, a cross between English and Spanish.
"Adónde vas?" I asked a friend who was leaving the office. Where are you going?
Staff writer spends a Spanish-only day in Little Havana
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