How to Buy an Octopus in a Foreign Language

How to Buy an Octopus in a Foreign Language

Last night at the grocery store I came upon a Spanish-speaking family trying to communicate with the person behind the seafood counter about an octopus they wanted to purchase. I stood watching for a few seconds. I was tempted to step in and just translate for them (and probably would have if things weren’t going well for them). But I didn’t.

As they walked away smiling, with their octopus wrapped in a brown paper bag, I thought back to learning Spanish. When we moved to Guatemala I took classes from a private Spanish tutor. I learned all the rules and conjugations. I could communicate for the most part. Understanding was my strong point, but my speaking was weak. For the longest time I never really improved because I was always hanging around English-speakers.

Then I started volunteering at a radio station. I answered phones. It was hard because some people talked really fast. But apparently I was doing ok, because  within a few short weeks they promoted me to DJ.

It made me so nervous every time I pushed the microphone button and went live for thousands of people across Guatemala City to hear me. At least once per night I’d have someone call in and inform me, “You talk weird.” I’d tell them I’m a gringo. Then they’d get all nice and say how impressed they were with my Spanish. It made me feel a little better, but it always kind of stung.

But my Spanish got way better.

I say all that to say this. You’ll never get good at anything in life if you don’t just get up the courage to go out and do it. No one is an expert when they start. But the folks who get better are the ones who are willing to be embarrassed for a while. They start learning in spite of their fear.

Sure, some people are mean and might make fun of you. But anyone who has actually tried something hard will be gracious – like the guy behind the seafood counter. And every little experience will help you improve.

Don’t be afraid to step out and try new things, even if you look a little silly at first.

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid. -Epictetus