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Episode 26: How to Lose Your Fear of Speaking Spanish

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    Learn Spanish Con Salsa Podcast

    Episode 26

    How to Lose Your Fear of Speaking Spanish

    Interview with Translator Lindsay Griffiths

    Lindsay Griffiths is a doctoral student in the English department at Princeton University. She earned her BA in English Literature and Spanish/English Translation from CUNY Hunter College. She is a published translator and is currently pursuing her studies in African-American and Afro-Latinx literature. 

    In this episode, Lindsay talks about the #1 challenge to successfully translating between Spanish and English.  She also shares how you can create your own language immersion environment to improve your proficiency and lose your fear of speaking Spanish.







    Hola y bienvenidos. Welcome to episode 26 of the Learn Spanish con Salsa podcast. In this episode I’m bringing you another interview. We’re going to be talking to Lindsay Griffiths. Lindsay is a doctoral student in the English department at Princeton university. She earned her BA in English literature in Spanish, English translation from the city university of New York, Hunter college. She is a published translator with the support of her colleagues as Adrián Izquierdo and Will Puruqui. She translated into English Mercedes Cebrian’s book on food, comedy and culture. She is currently working full time pursuing her studies in African-American and Afro Latinx literature. I’m sure you’ll find her story interesting and inspiring. So, let’s get started with the interview with Lindsey. Hola Lindsey. Thank you for joining us on the Spanish con Salsa podcast.

    01:32 – 01:33


    Hi, I’m so happy to be here.

    01:34 –



    So Lindsay, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and how you started learning Spanish.

    01:41 –



    Okay. So, I am a first generation American. My parents are both from Jamaica actually. And so English was my first language, just to skip forward into the future. I’m currently a graduate student working towards my PhD in English literature with a focus in African American and Afro Latinx literature, but I earned my BA from Hunter college where I did a double major in English literature and in Spanish translation. So that’s sort of where the Spanish comes up in my longer life trajectory. Like most kids in the United States, of course we had that, the language requirement in maybe middle school, and we had the option of choosing French, Spanish and German between the three. And I chose Spanish, I think because I grew up in a community that was largely Caribbean immigrants, people from Jamaica, from Haiti, and a lot of people from the Dominican Republic. There were so many Spanish speaking immigrants in my school district actually that we had like math classes in Spanish. So, I chose Spanish because it seemed the most useful to me and the most familiar and I just really never stopped learning after the seventh grade. I fell in love with the musicality of the language and the ability to be able to communicate, you know, in another language and with people who have different experiences and I’ve been learning it and working through it ever since.

    03:05 –



    Great. So, you said you sort of liked how the language sounded and like you called it the musicality of it. I liked that word. I want you to tell us just a little bit about your experience with learning Spanish because many of our listeners might be either beginners or intermediate that are kind of struggling to get to that advanced level or to get really comfortable having conversations or to feel really fluent in Spanish. So, can you share what was your most successful language learning experience or strategy? And give us a few specific examples of what you did and the improvement that you noticed that really helped push your Spanish to the next level.

    03:42 –



    Yes, so studying Spanish and I think any language can be a bit difficult when you’re doing it solely through the classroom. And that was a challenge that I ran into in the sense that I had a very good grasp on the grammar and sort of the structure of the language. But when it came to more conversational contexts, I have a lot of difficulty with that. And so, I tried to take on a couple of strategies outside of the classroom to improve my Spanish. So, I had some neighbors who were Dominican, and they were kind enough to speak to me. We would stand in the other side of the fence, in our front yard and, and have conversations and they would correct me whenever I made mistakes. And likewise, sometimes we would switch to English and then I would correct them if they made mistakes

    04:20 –



    Because they had recently immigrated. Some other strategies that I have and I think are really useful watching telenovelas with Spanish subtitles if you’re not up there yet. Maybe start with the English subtitles and then work up to the Spanish subtitles. I watched maiden Manhattan probably a hundred episodes and I learned a lot of interesting sort of colloquial phrases and uses of words, a lot of angry words, like the command ¡Largate! Get away from me which is interesting, you know.

    04:53 –



    Words you don’t get in school, right?

    04:55 –



    Yeah, exactly. No, no one’s gonna say that to me in the classroom. I would also highly recommend translating songs or looking up, listening to music in Spanish and then looking up their translations in English and sort of getting accustomed to what it is that the people are saying when you hear them singing in Spanish. Getting a buddy who speaks Spanish. So besides my neighbors, I also found a buddy online, a friend of mine who lives in Ecuador and we have Skype conversations every now and then, and he corrects my Spanish whenever we have conversations that I make any sort of mistake. So that was really useful.

    05:33 –



    Yes, I think having people that you can talk to is really important because a lot of people that I work with, they’ve told me that “Hey, I’ve been learning Spanish for a while, but I still can’t have a conversation”. And that’s usually when they’ve been doing a lot of work on apps or like learning the courses or looking at books, but they haven’t ever tried to really have a conversation with another person because they’re scared, where they don’t want to sound stupid or say something wrong. So, what would you say to someone to get over that fear of speaking Spanish when you’re not exactly sure what to say or if you’re saying it the right way?

    06:08 –



    Oh my goodness, it is going to be so embarrassing. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’re going to make mistakes. But I would say that a lot of times you feel more dumb than you actually seem, and people are a lot less disappointed in your language skills than you are in your own. Most of the time, whenever I would speak to someone in Spanish, especially native speakers, even if I was making mistakes, they were mostly just excited that I was making the effort to learn and they were very encouraging. So I would say, whenever you try to speak Spanish with someone and you know, you’re gonna make mistakes, just, except that take it in stride and know that the person is mostly just excited that you’re trying and happy to communicate with you.

    06:53 –



    Yeah. And I think sometimes, you know, we’re our worst. We’re our own worst critics. So, we might be thinking “Oh, I didn’t conjugate that verb perfectly”, or “Did I say the exact right thing?”. But I always tell people that native Spanish speakers don’t have perfect grammar either. I can’t tell you how many text messages I got or, you know, voice messages where I can hear what the mistakes are because I learned grammar in school the same as you, but it doesn’t matter. Right. The ideas that you’re communicating with another person, you’re learning about them, you’re getting your point across. So, I definitely think that, I mean, you’re right, mistakes are unavoidable and the sooner you get over that, the much faster you’ll make progress. I’m speaking Spanish.

    07:33 –



    Yes, I completely agree. So I wanted to ask you too, because you’ve done some academic work in Spanish, but you’ve also had experience with, I would say more real world Spanish, kind of just like you mentioned, learning through music and learning by watching telenovelas. Would you say that there was one moment where that you remember where you finally felt that you were confident speaking Spanish or you knew that you were truly bilingual? Was there something specific or was there a specific experience or something that happened that you remember? Or was it just sort of like a process in one day you just felt comfortable and you didn’t realize exactly when it happened?

    08:10 –



    So, I would say maybe both. I find it hard to pinpoint a particular moment when I was absolutely sure. But I remember one moment sort of a confirmation when I was sitting in class in undergrad and, one of my Dominican classmates, it was Spanish class, one of my Dominican classmates started speaking and she, you know, strung together a whole sentence of course. And I understood what she said and there was sort of a joke among my non-native Spanish speaking friends that if you understand when a Dominican speaks Spanish and you’re succeeded. And so, I was very proud of myself that I was able to understand her. And I think that was the first time during the whole semester that I really completely understood what she said.

    08:49 –



    Yeah, it’s funny. That’s actually something I’ve, I’ve said to you before on this podcast that if you can understand a Spanish speaker, from either Dominican Republic, or Cuba, or Puerto Rico, then you can probably understand any Spanish speaker.

    09:01 –




    09:02 –



    Just because their accents as you know, are so particular. And it’s funny that you mentioned you’re from Jamaica because I always use that analogy. I say, you know, learning in Spanish in the Caribbean is the same as if you were to learn English from someone from Jamaica. Right? Like there’s a certain accent that people are used to hearing from Jamaica. It’s more kind of like I’d say a laid back way of speaking English. There’s some other influences there. So, I think it’s very similar when you’re learning Spanish in the Caribbean as well. But people just usually don’t think about it the same way.

    09:33 –



    Yeah, yeah.

    09:35 –



    So, I want to ask you this because we mentioned making mistakes and how important that is for learning languages. So, I want to ask you to tell us a story about either your most embarrassing moment or your funniest moment learning Spanish. It could be something funny you said or something that you misunderstood.

    09:53 –



    The first thing that comes to my mind was a very embarrassing moment in high school. So, like I mentioned, I had been studying Spanish since middle school and by high school, you know, I thought I had everything down path. I thought I was extremely proficient. I was in my AP Spanish classes or whatever. So, one day a parent walks into the lobby of the high school, and he’s trying to speak to the security guards at the front, but he doesn’t speak English. She only speaks Spanish and the security guards only speak English. And so, they ask around, is there anybody in here who speaks Spanish? And of course, I thought that I could handle this. So, I ran up and I was like, yeah, I can do this. And so, the parent looked at me and he started speaking and it was, it was nonsense.

    10:35 –



    Like I couldn’t understand what he was saying at all. And, and it was the most embarrassing situation because I put myself on the spot and this man was looking into my eyes waiting for some sort of moment of comprehension, you know, for me to help him or whatever it was he needed. And I was useless. And the security guards were, they had wasted their time, you know? And so the most embarrassing moment I think besides than that man looking into my eyes and finding nothing was when they had to replace me, you know, they had to find someone else to come and then someone was much more efficient did the job that I couldn’t do.

    11:07 –



    See you’re, you’re a very overconfident with your high school Spanish at that point.

    11:12 –




    11:15 –



    Actually I had a similar experience and I learned Spanish in middle school and high school as well and you know, I went up to level six, so I thought “Oh, I’m like super smart and proficient in Spanish”. So, my first time out of the country I went to Panamá, but this was years after I graduated from high school. So, I hadn’t really done much with Spanish since then. And I remember getting through immigration and customs and thinking “Oh yeah, this will be great”. I just, I’m just waiting for him to say the word dirección address because I know that means address. I just need to tell him where I’m staying. Right. And they were like, siguiente next like next, then I go up to them in line and I’m like, I knew nothing that he said, like I understood absolutely nothing.

    11:53 –



    I just like showed them the piece of paper where I wrote down my address and I was kinda like, Oh, aquí here you know? And he’s like looking at me like, ah, okay. And he’s just like, welcome to Panamá. Like he just didn’t even try to speak Spanish anymore. So yeah, I definitely understand like having those moments of overconfidence. But I think that shows us how far we have to go. Right? Like when you’re in the process of learning, in the beginning you feel like you’re making progress really quickly because you’re like “Oh, yesterday I knew zero words in today I know 25 words and the next day you may learn 25 more. And by the end of the month you may know, you know, a thousand words. If you study every day”. And with that first thousand words you’re able to do a lot, but the kind of the path from your first thousand words or your, your beginner level to get to intermediate, advanced and fluent is a much higher, you know, mountain to climb.

    12:57 –



    So, I think it’s very normal to get really encouraged in the beginning. And then when you realize how much you have left to learn to really be kind of stuck in your, in your tracks. So, can you share something with us because you’ve, you spent quite a bit of time with the Spanish language, and you’ve worked with it in, in academic environments as well. So, what would you say to a listener who’s thinking, you know, “I’ve really been at this for a while. I really want to be fluent in Spanish, but I just feel stuck or I feel like I’m not making progress or I’m just spinning my wheels”. What would you say to someone to really get them from that place where they’re sort of struggling but they want to get to really be confident? Having conversations or really feel fluent in Spanish.

    13:26 –



    I would say if you have the means go travel somewhere, go study in a country where Spanish is the first language. That was the largest drawback for me in the sense that I never had the opportunity to do that and I wished that I could. But just by immersing yourself, whether it’s in a another country or in maybe a classroom where Spanish is only spoken, that kind of immersion really is so helpful for getting you more comfortable and you start learning and picking up things rapidly, not just in terms of it being in through instruction like the teacher telling you this is what this word means, but also just in terms of picking up on the words that you don’t know, picking up on the things that you recognize as gaps and learning them through experience, writing them down. And I really think that that was a huge point or aspect of my language learning journey that really helped me to get into a more comfortable space just sitting in and with the language.

    14:23 –



    Yeah, definitely. And I definitely agree with that. I think that sometimes that we really have to create a need for ourselves to use the language. So as long as we’re treating it like it’s optional, we’re never really gonna get advanced like to that place where we really want to go. So I think creating some type of immersion, whether it’s like you mentioned, or a classroom, or going to another country, but if you can create an immersion environment in your own home, right, you can watch the news in Spanish, if you’re going to work out, you can do your workouts in Spanish. If you’re gonna cook a recipe, you can look up the recipe in Spanish. I mean we have access to so much today with the internet that you can find almost anything. So even if you’re not in Colombia or Venezuela, you can go to a website from one of those places and you can consume content and consume news and what’s, what people are watching on TV and what people are reading there. So, you can create your own immersion environment in your own home, wherever you are. But you’ve got to make it a necessity. So, I definitely agree with that. So really get that immersion. You have to make it mandatory and not an option.

    15:24 –



    Oh yeah, I would definitely say too to add onto that, put your phone in Spanish, but to anyone listening that is the a really good way to learn things quickly and force you to figure out what it’s saying. Because when something happens to your phone or you need to go through the settings to figure out how to fix something, you need to be able to manage that Spanish. It, it’s been really helpful for me.

    15:45 –



    Yeah. I always just tell people, make sure you know that the word for language in Spanish is idioma because if you have to switch back, like I’ve had some people do that before and they went to like the store, it’s actually getting their cell phone fix, right and the agent or the customer service agent didn’t know how to fix the phone or like switch it back to English. So, I definitely agree with you. And that’s what I’ve done before to know. Definitely people who’ve tried it. But make sure you know the word idioma before you do it so that you know how to get back to English. Definitely. So, all right, so Lindsay, I wanna ask you just one more question, about your experience, as a translator because I know that you’ve worked on some projects where you translated some works into English and Spanish. Can you tell us what’s the most challenging thing about translation? Because I know a lot of things can get lost in translation. It’s not just word for word, you know, Spanish to English, English to Spanish. A lot of times there’s cultural, issues, right? There’s things that you can’t really express the words or there might be things beyond grammar that can get lost in translation. So, what do you think is one of the toughest things, that you had to face when translating between the two languages?

    16:57 –



    Oh yeah. That was the first thing that came to my mind. Culture. So, I translated a book by a Spaniard, the author´s name is Mercedes Cebrián and her book was “Burp apuntes gastronomicos” Burp Gastronomic Notes. And it was very much sort of a critique of culture and a society and human nature through, through the Avenue of food, and the struggle that I had the most with this book was trying to bring the culture over to the United States without having to Americanize it, you know, sort of changing, maybe a particular, Spaniard delicacy to look at, I don’t know, hamburger or something or, you know, so I struggled a lot with not having to Americanize the text and also trying to make up for the areas where there were things that just didn’t exist culturally in the United States, but that existed in Spain like particular kinds of jams that we just don’t eat in the United States, you know? So, culture is a huge, huge challenge to get over when translating. And a lot of times I would try to make up for it by just kind of borrowing the word and keeping it in italics. You know, putting the onus on the reader to look up what that word means and what it’s referring to.

    18:18 –



    Yeah. You know, that’s interesting. You mentioned that because, I found the same issue. Like some things we just literally don’t have right in this language. So, it’s not even a language thing. There’s nothing to translate it to because it’s a thing that doesn’t exist. And one example of this actually I had with Portuguese not Spanish was, I went to Brazil and they have these like, stands on almost every corner in Rio de Janeiro where you can buy a smoothies and different shakes and things. And there’s this list of at least 50 different fruits. And a lot of them, I mean, I was in a different hemisphere. So, in the Southern hemisphere, and you know, Brazil is the Amazon, there’s a very rich agriculture there. There are literally things that we just do not have in the United States. So, we don’t have names for them in English.




    So, you know, I would be looking at fruits and it’s all in Portuguese, but it didn’t matter. Like if I could translate it because I wouldn’t know what it was. It’s just literally a thing that we don’t have. Yes. So, you’re right, culture is very important. And I think, that’s one of the things I always emphasize in this podcast is that, you know, learning a language is a lot more than learning words and grammar. It’s learning about people, it’s learning about food and like you mentioned, comedy, culture, arts. I mean, it’s all of that. And if you get so caught up in like the grammar and the words, I mean, you need to learn that stuff too, but you can miss the richness of the culture and the people. And really what learning is about me learning the language is about connecting those dots with, um, other people and also enhancing sort of, your own identity and your own life experience and who you are. And so with that, I wanted to ask you, Lindsey, since you’ve learned Spanish and you’ve got to a place where you feel really comfortable, what would you say is the biggest thing that has changed about you? Or what has learning Spanish really changed for your life since you’ve really mastered the language?




    The most valuable thing that Spanish has really given me and the most impactful way that I’ve been changed by Spanish has been my ability. And I guess this ties back to what you’re saying about culture, my ability to connect with other cultures and connect with people who I would otherwise never have had the opportunity to connect with. You know, being able to meet and talk with the Spaniard author who I translated for, or one experience that I find really amazing was I went to a sort of language exchange event in New York and I, the, the event was basically for people to practice speaking Spanish in that conversational space. And I was speaking to a gentleman who only spoke Japanese in Spanish. And so, the only reason you were both able to communicate with each other was because we had those learned Spanish as a second language. And I found that so amazing that had I not stepped out to learn this language, he and I would not have had that opportunity to meet. And so yeah, I think Spanish has changed me in the sense that it has allowed me access to cultures and people that I would not have had access to. And also just expanded my conception of the world, really broadened the borders of my little world that I was living in before.




    Very interesting. Yeah. And, it’s funny you mentioned that, cause I actually had an experience too when I was in Cuba. I was talking to someone who was from Italy and he was there for vacation. So, he only spoke Italian and Spanish. And so, I could speak to him, but he, you know, my other friends and things that didn’t speak Spanish couldn’t communicate with them because they didn’t speak Italian. So yeah, I think it is really interesting the connections that you can make when you really do know another language that you wouldn’t be able to make. I mean, you’re literally cutting yourself off from millions of people in the world that speak a different language when you only know one language. So that’s really powerful that you mentioned that. Okay. So now, Lindsay, I wanna switch gears and now it’s time for our quick fire round. So, I’m gonna ask you five questions in Español Spanish for you to answer off the top of your head. So, ¿lista? Ready?




    Estoy lista. I’m ready.




    Y, número uno: ¿Cuál es tu canción favorita en Español?

    And, number one: What’s your favorite song in Spanish?




    Oh bueno yo diría que hoy, porque cambia, pero hoy mi canción favorita es Ahora Quien de Marc Anthony.

    Oh well, I would say today, because it always changes, today my favorite song is Ahora Quién from Marc Anthony.




    Oh si, Marc Anthony es muy popular en este podcast. Ok número dos: ¿Cuál es tu palabra favorita en español?

    Oh yeah, Marc Anthony is very popular in this podcast. Okay, number two: What is your favorite word in Spanish?




    Oh, eso lo sé. Mi palabra favorita es imposibilitar. Y eso me encanta porque es como en inglés tendría que usar como tres palabras para decirlo, pero imposibilitar es algo genial del idioma español que se puede decir algo grande con solo una palabra

    Oh that I know, my favorite word is “imposibilitar”. And I love it because is like in English I would have to use like 3 words to say “imposibilitar” and is something great about the language Spanish, you can say something big with just one word.




    Y para los oyentes que nos saben la palabra. ¿Qué significa en inglés?

    And for the listeners that don’t know that word. What does that mean in English?




    Imposibilitar means to make something imposible.




    Necesitamos más palabras para decir la misma cosa en inglés y normalmente es la otra cosa es como en español necesitamos más palabras. Es una palabra interesante.

    We would need more words to say the same thing in English and normally is the other way around, in Spanish we need more word. It’s an interesting word.




    Número tres: ¿Cuál fue la última cosa que leíste y miraste o escuchaste en español?

    Number three: What is the las thing you read, watched or listened in Spanish?




    La última cosa que puedo recordar es el libro “El Túnel” escrito por Ernesto Sábato, es un libro argentino creo.

    The last thing that I can remember is the book “The Tunel” written by Ernesto Sabato, is an Argentinian book I think.




    Número cuatro: Saca tu teléfono y traduce el último texto o mensaje que recibiste al español.

    Number four: Pull out your phone and translate the last text or message you received in Spanish.




    Ok bueno en inglés dice In English says: But I wanted to get all those emails done today. Pero quería enviar todos estos correos electrónicos hoy.




    Número cinco es una pregunta al azar. Entonces, ¿A cuál estado o país no quieres regresar nunca más?

    Number five is a random question. Then, Which state or country you don’t want to go back never again?




    Sólo he ido a como a 3 países. Y yo quiero regresar a todos. Si me encantan todos.

    I’ve only been to like 3 countries. And I want to go back to everyone. I love them all.




    Otra pregunta al azar. ¿Qué ocupa demasiado de tu tiempo?

    Another random question. What takes most of your time?




    Mi celular, mi teléfono. Paso como demasiado tiempo como mirando a la pantalla de esa cosa. Tenía que, yo no sé cómo decirlo en español pero tenía que, delete undownload Instagram.

    My phone. I spend too much time staring at the screen of that thing.  I don’t know how to say it in Spanish but I had to delete and download into the ground.




    Yes, yes. I see. Las redes sociales son como adicciones para todo yo creo. Eso es todo, gracias Lindsay,

    The social media is like addiction for everybody I think. Thank you Lindsay.

    Thank you for participating in our quick fire round. Now if folks want to get in touch with you on social media and other reason for you to go to Instagram’s, how can they get in touch with you? And do you have any projects coming up that you want to let folks know about?




    Oh yes. So, on Instagram you can find me at Lindsay Taylor, that’s @LindsayTaylor. newbie may be pleased to find that I am an amateur Instagram singer. So, we’ll see how that goes. Future projects coming up. I, not that I can speak of, but hopefully there will be another translation in the works. Yeah, that’s about it. Thanks so much.




    Okay, and thank you for joining us on the Learn Spanish con Salsa podcast.



    Lindsay Griffiths

    Instagram: @lindsaytaelor

    Lindsay’s Favorite Song: Ahora Quién by Marc Anthony

    The Last Book Lindsay Read: El Túnel by Ernesto Sábato

    Lindsay’s favorite word: imposibilitar

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