That’s right. Everybody says that when there’s a will there’s a way, but I work full time and I’m starting a business. I really want to keep up my working languages and improve my passive language, but so far, I’ve only been able to stay afloat and not loose what has taken me years to achieve.
So here is what I do and I hope it helps other aspiring linguists with tight schedules
My husband and I speak English at home and we watch all our entertainment in that language. That helps a lot, but it’s not enough. Since I know he understands Spanish perfectly, I get lazy and do the very Chicano code-switching. In order to remedy this dangerous complacency, I take every opportunity I have to speak to a native English-speaker. I stay in touch via e-mail with some of my friends from college and I read the news in English every day. Every third boob I read is written in this language and I teach one English class a week. This particularly interesting because, on top of the extra income, it provides me with a scheduled opportunity to research vocabulary or rules of style, not to mention it keeps my oral skills in check.
My secret weapon, though is my membership and regular attendance to a local chapter of the international leadership and public speaking club Toastmasters. I stress the fact that I attend regularly because otherwise is near pointless. this club meets every two weeks giving me the opportunity to interact with other native speakers, bilingual people and Spaniards with varying levels of proficiency. When following the program you are assigned a mentor who will help you prepare your first four speeches. Writing a speech has been a very interesting learning experience. Interpreters have to render a speech in a different language on a regular basis, but they never really get to write and deliver their own. So by doing this, I’m gaining valuable insight into my future clients’ perspective (I remain optimistic). Another added benefit of the Toastmasters program, is the fact that they suggest several techniques to improve your public-speaking voice. In my experience, this is crucial and should be part of every training program. Knowing how to use your voice will help you prevent voice strain caused by improper breathing, and it will also help you correct certain unpleasant qualities such as mumbling, exceeding speed, monotony or exceeding volume.
French is my passive language. I have been studying French for a few years now and spent some time in beautiful Nice last summer. Although I love the language, the fact that my husband has no interest in learning it whatsoever means that I can’t sneak in the winner combination of business and pleasure and watch a movie in French from time to time. I have to do magic and find time to stay in touch with this language. I read some international headlines and news summaries from different sites in this language on a daily basis and I try to listen to the radio at least three times a week.
Same as with English, I try to stay in touch with my French-speaking friends and I replicated the secret-weapon-strategy of joining a conversation club. DialoguesMadrid also meets twice a month at a public library. We first have a structures session in which there is speaker who delivers a “mot-du-jour,” then there is a features speaker who delivers a presentation on a topic of her choice (previously approved by the moderator) and then the speaker opens the floor for debate. After the library closes, we head out to a bar and have an informal social interaction. DialoguesMadrid has the additional benefit of the blog that Bertrand, the founder and moderator, writes. In the blog hw published regular posts in different categories such as “le verb du jour”, “l’expression du jour” or “petites histoires”. Besides adding this blog to my daily French reading, I like that Bertrand (the blogmaster and founder of the club) publishes an account of each session and evaluates the speaker giving grammar or vocabulary corrections and an overall account of their performance.
Spanish is my native language and here I feel I can add a lot of value if I manage to overcome a challenge. I was born and raised inMexico and I’m trying to enter the European market. What does this mean? Well, it means that from past experience I know some agency seek me out because I can deliver an interpretation in a very neutral and internationally understood of Spanish that makes me aware of the cultural nuances of Latin-America, but it also means that if my accent doesn’t sound neutral enough on the phone when a potential client calls me, it can be a huge turn-off for them and I may loose the job. I have learned not to take this personally.
In order to absorb the way my potential clients use language (inSpain, specifically) I read the news, books, go to the movies, but mostly, I listen. I work as an office manager in a financial firm inMadrid, and besides the fact that it has given me perspective and economic stability, this job has provided me with the invaluable opportunity to be inside my potential clients’ shoes. Everyday, I listen to all the things my colleagues say and to the way they say them: inflection, context, emotional charge, demeanor. I am aware that many speak good English but I’m also aware of the language needs that go unmet. I wish I had done this the first time I dove into the freelance world, but the opportunity wasn’t there, I was a recent immigrant back then.
Mexico lives in my heart and I must never forget the wonderful and playful way in which people speak back home. Their choice of words, their nuances and inflection add richness to the A language into which I will interpret that must never be forgotten or underestimated. To keep my Latin-American connection to language alive, I simply let it flow whenever there is a chance.