There are many ways for us use what we experience in the real world to help develop our communication skills in any language. Whether it be seeing an ad on the television or in a magazine, butchering a phrase only to be corrected by a native speaker, or listening to music.  These experiences create a moment in time when you feel that you finally understand. That little light bulb on the top of your head flickers on and everything becomes clearer. Many people refer to this as an “Ah-ha” moment.  Many times marketing or political campaigns are used to spark these moments in our lives. They capture your attention, using only a few words and maybe a few pictures. In Ecuador, I had many of these experiences. Talking with the clerk at the market, looking at street graffiti making a political statement or reading a local newspaper article, all of these things helped me to and become immersed in the culture.

Advertising is meant to capture your attention as quickly as possible, with carefully selected details that are put in place to make you want an item, or think a certain way.  The words are carefully crafted together like a basket weaver intertwines their baskets. Years back, I was sitting in my Spanish class and we were learning about the uses of “se”. We were at the point where we moved from the reflexive use of “se” to the impersonal use. A few days later, I was driving past a car dealership in town.  I saw a sign on the side of this dealership that said, “Se habla espanol.”  I thought to myself, “habla is defiantly not reflexive” and didn’t really understand it.  Remembering this experience helped to understand a complicated topic, one I had struggled with previously.  After that class, I understood what that sign was saying, “We speak Spanish”, a sign that many native Spanish speakers may look for when purchasing cars.  I can relate to this as a foreigner in Ecuador, looking for these signs to guide me in my daily activities.

There are many things in life that evoke  emotion or creativity in us, and music is a platform that many people use to help portray this.  Obviously, being an English native speaker, the subjunctive was outside the realm of my world, but in songs, poems, and stories you can find countless examples to help us understand.  There was a class I attended while in Ecuador that was all about poetry and writing from “La epoca colonial” to “La epoca posmodernismo”.  Dios mio, learning poetry in Spanish was by far the most difficult challenge I had encountered yet, but the wheels kept turning.  There were many times I felt like pulling my hair out or ripping the words into pieces, but there were also many times of “Ah-ha” and a feeling of success which fueled the passion and kept me pushing forward toward the frontier of becoming fluent in another language.  I learned a lot about myself from this experience, but the most pertinent of all was that you must keep striving forward, even when you feel defeated, because there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

While chasing this light, sometimes you trip over a hole or a rock along the way.  Usually, it is something that is very small and could have been avoided rather easily.  I had one of these experiences while eating at a small restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador.  By this time in my life, I was the most comfortable and confident I had ever been with my Spanish speaking skills.  The evening was very enjoyable, the food was delicious. The wine helped to make the atmosphere even more relaxed and calm, and there was a soothing hum of conversation.  The night was coming to an end, it was time for us to start heading home.  I saw the waitress and asked “Por favor, podemos tener la Cuenca.”  She nodded in acknowledgment and walked away, but as she walked away I saw a little smile on her face.  A couple minutes later it was brought to my attention that “Cuenca” was the city we were in and the word I was looking for was “La cuenta.”  I felt the blood rush to my cheeks in embarrassment. A couple minutes later, the embarrassment subsided and it was soon a laughing matter. Of course, I know now these mistakes are all a part of learning.

No matter what you do in life, there will undoubtedly be challenges. These challenges do now mold a person’s character, but rather how the person deals with these challenges that build their character.  One does not simply understand the meaning of a word by reading it on a piece of paper; we need experiences in order to relate these words to meaning.  Learning in life is all about going out and taking the bull by the horns, getting your hands dirty, and at the end of a fantastic night, asking your waitress for the city.

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