Dreams of A Diplomat: Terminando Español

by Juan Thomas
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“After speaking with your instructor and your learning consultant, we are in agreement that you are at the level of 2/2” – Enrique Renteria

Earlier this month, I wrote about my 2nd evaluation in Spanish Basic for S-2/R-2 Skills and how I walked away from it with a Level 1+ rating in speaking and a Level 2 in reading. Well, this past Wednesday was my 3rd (and final) evaluation for the course. It was a relatively quick session…only 30 minutes since I was being evaluated on the speaking portion only. Ahead of the evaluation, I was informed that my evaluator would be one of the Colombian instructors and that she was actually from Bogotá. I prepared myself for that but about an hour before the evaluation, I was informed that she had to cancel and my new evaluator was from Mexico. I’ll admit I was a bit flustered by this but for the past month, I’ve been beefing up my speaking ability with 1-on-1 sessions with my language supervisor, who hails from Mexico.

The evaluation went extremely well. I nailed my introduction and biography perfectly. I didn’t mess up on any of the words and I had great answers when he asked follow-up questions. On the presentation portion, I used some of the military terminology that I learned from my independent study after my 2nd evaluation last month. That proved to be a great thing as my evaluator was actually a veteran of the Mexican Army. We had some great off-the-record conversation about the dynamics of military leadership. Finally, it was the interview. I listened intently and was able to capture some main points to report back. There were some things I didn’t understand but I went through all of the protocols of asking for repeats and other words. As a result, I was able to successfully translate.

I had to wait a whole 24 hours for my results but I felt really good about my prospects. When my supervisor informed me that I had reached Level 2 in speaking, I let go of a vicious fist pump. With the ascension to Level 2 in speaking, I successfully completed the requirements for the course. But even more than that, I can honestly say yo pasé español. I started the course 4 months ago not knowing much in the way of speaking or reading Spanish.

Though I can now hold my own speaking in routine social and limited office environments or reading intermediate and simple colloquial texts, the path here has not been easy. As I noted in Part I, I really didn’t see the part where learning the Spanish language was “not terribly difficult”. Had I not advocated for myself and moved back to one of the slower-paced classes, it’s possible I would’ve flunked out of the course. But I digress. Spanish ended up being an experience similar to those I experienced running 100-meter sprints as a much younger version of myself. I almost always got out of the blocks slow…perhaps even last amongst all that I ran against. But I was blessed with such tremendous acceleration and closing speed that I was able to make up the ground at the midway point of the race and finish strong. That’s what happened in Spanish Basic for S-2/R-2 Skills: I struggled early but found my groove in the middle and finished strong. As a result, I can carry on a conversation and I can certainly read in Spanish…in a limited working proficiency, of course.

I rarely give myself credit for anything as I value team success over personal glory. But, this was a tough challenge and I finished masterfully. I had to give myself kudos and I did. Now, I can ramp up on the outprocessing and turn my full attention to Bogotá. I’m excited to put my skills to use in Colombia in a couple of weeks’ time.

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