I’ve written several times about Bernardo, the man who works on my family’s ranch and only speaks Spanish, and am going to follow that trend today. I called him last week to relay a message from my dad about things that needed to be done that week, including charging the display screen for a scale they have. I wasn’t sure exactly how to say this so, of course, googled it, which yielded “pantalla de la escala.” Literally, this is “screen of scale,” and while it didn’t feel quite right, I figured Bernardo was used to my flavor of gringa Spanish and would be able to interpret it.
Another reason I am usually confident that he’ll get what I’m saying is that he has a context for the the things we’re talking about since he works at the ranch every day, while I’m not as familiar with the equipment and all that since I’m not there as often. This process of communicating with Bernardo has helped me learn Spanish vocabulary, ranging from the widely applicable to the ranch specific.
When I talked to Bernardo and said he needed to “cargar la pantalla de la escala,” he paused for a moment and then said he would. He politely told me that the word for what we were talking about is “báscula,” which I noted for later googling. I don’t often talk about scales in Spanish. You never know when you’ll need a particular word, but in the moment you do it is more than worth it to have learned it. Any language that you learn and acquire is beneficial to your overall language journey not only because you gain that discrete unit of knowledge, but also because language builds on and catalyzes itself.
Every time you experience Spanish — whether you are speaking it, hearing it, reading it or writing it — your mind makes progress in acquiring the language and becomes a little more comfortable in it. It is definitely a marathon process, but even a marathon is ultimately comprised of individual steps. Whether it’s a conversational slang or technical jargon, it’s language, and every little bit adds up to make an ever increasing whole. Whether you’re writing an essay for class or chatting about your favorite team, your mind is operating in the language you want to learn, and that is essential to improving fluency.
When you learn Spanish vocabulary, it is, of course, beneficial to focus on certain things over others if you have certain contexts you want to use the language in. At the same time, any language unit — big or small, common or rare — will help you develop a feel for how the language works, how it is structured, how it functions, etc., which will support your language use in every area. It is effective to both refine and expand your knowledge, so find the combination of learning a language you need and exposing yourself to the language you might not know you need.