Living in Spanish is Tiring

Dear Matt,

Here in Spain, I am currently doing my teaching internship in the mornings (starting at 8:15 and getting out at 2:45 most days) and taking a class in the afternoons. This means that most days I am living in Spanish all the time, and boy does it make you tired! And I like to do social things, but some days I just want to have a 'cuppa tea' (the British in me), and go to bed. There are days when I am much more tired than I would be if I was just living in English all the time.

Your schedule can feel even more demanding when it involves constantly engaging in a foreign language.

Your schedule can feel even more demanding when it involves constantly engaging in a foreign language.

This may seem strange, but from what I have seen, it is the norm. My brother did his junior and senior years of high school in Granada and my parents will tell you that he would come home from school at 3:00, eat lunch, and take a two hour nap. Functioning in another language, all the time, takes time to get used to, and even when you can do it without a problem, it can still make you tired.

I don’t think that most of us realize how draining it really is to function at a different level (both language and cultural) until we experience it. And it can be really frustrating when you cannot do everything that you want because you just don’t have as much energy as ‘normal.’ But this is also normal. We get into routines in life (even if it is just how close together you stand or how you greet someone in the street), and when you have to change these routines you have to constantly be thinking about what you should be doing and when. You have to start all over again.

At the same time, learning how to live at different levels is oddly liberating, you learn that what is ‘normal’ isn’t normal everywhere, but something that belongs within specific cultures and ways of life. You learn new expressions that you will never be able to find in your native language (and are really thankful when someone else understands what you want to say in this non-native language). You learn how to express yourself, both verbally and non-verbally all over again (I would say you are even a different person in another language, but that is another question). Getting to know yourself in another language, in another cultural setting, is an amazing experience, but if you are truly integrating yourself, it isn’t easy.

I have lived in Granada for five years (on and off) and there are still some days when I feel like I cannot say what I want to say in Spanish or, especially when I am tired, my sentences come out in an odd Spanglish. When I play soccer, sometimes I just make sounds because that is easier than trying to run, think, and talk in Spanish at the same time. I am lucky because I have had time to meet people. I have friends who only look at me a little funny when I say or do weird things, I don’t care if I look like an idiot because I do something wrong (after I turn a lovely shade of tomato because that's what I do).

And I take time for me. I love to read or go for a coffee or to the park. I am not afraid to say 'no' to plans because I really cannot deal with more social stuff at the moment or because I need to emotionally reboot. Don’t think about the tiredness as a negative thing ("I can’t do this"), but a positive one ("it takes a lot, but wow have I improved"). Every day it gets easier, even though it is a bit of a roller coaster, and days and weeks go by now where I don’t even notice that I am living in Spanish―it just takes time.