Kaqchikel For A Speaker Of... Not Spanish

I studied French in school. And ASL. And Mandarin. But, despite living my entire life in Florida, a state with a huge community of Spanish-speakers (including some in my own family), I had never studied Spanish. I applied to the Guatemala Field School thinking that I would not be accepted, as a direct result of this fact. 

When I was accepted, I arrived in Guatemala with virtually no knowledge of Spanish. I could read passably, but every time someone spoke to me I could return only a blank stare. I could say "Hola" and count to ten, but those weren't doing me much good.

My host family speaks primarily Kaqchikel, but they codeswitch frequently to Spanish as well. They have been accepting and patient as I have struggled through, with one memorable example being when I told them "I don't want your clothes" a week in. I was trying to communicate that I didn't want to be culturally appropriative by wearing their traditional clothing, after they asked. Another is the many times I used the more ...risqué... "estoy buena" in place of "estoy bien," before getting corrected. 

The classes, which used an immersion focused method, were fine for a non-Spanish speaker until we got to grammar explanations. Even then, my background in linguistics allowed me to understand the concepts. The same is true for elicitations--my research partner speaks Spanish, so what we can't accomplish in Kaqchikel I have rehearsed with him ahead of time.

Although I could theoretically get by with very little, I have picked up a LOT of Spanish in my first two weeks in Guatemala (and I expect to gain even more in this final week). Studying our Kaqchikel textbook, which is bilingual with Spanish, and all of the Spanish-language Kaqchikel dictionaries, and just existing surrounded by Spanish has forced me to make progress.

My experience here has engendered in me a desire to learn as much Spanish as I can... So I can come back next year : )


  1. Muy bien hecho, Katie! Or should I say...matyosh. :)


Post a Comment