My biggest concern when I first joined the Peace Corps was learning another language. It was a reasonable fear seeing that I took six years of Spanish and still had trouble navigating a menu in a Mexican restaurant. Bulgarian is much (much) tougher than Spanish. For starters, it’s a different alphabet. A “P” in English and Spanish is actually an “R” in Bulgarian. And then you’ve got dudes like this: “Ю”. Having 16 months under my belt makes the Cyrillic alphabet a cinch. It’s actually much easier than the Latin alphabet-everything is straight up phonetic. “You spell it with a “P”, as in “Psychology”. That joke doesn’t work in Bulgarian.

Can I speak, read and write Bulgarian? Absolutly. However, I only write it for my tutor and I rarely read it extensively. But speaking, yet. My vocabulary isn’t where I’d like it to be but my pronouciation and grammar has lead people to confuse me for a Bulgarian. Though they haven’t told me if it’s a slow Bulgarian who says things like “something you put high in a room to make light” (нещо която слагиш нагори в стая да прави светлина) or “a light bulb” (електрическа крушка). Yea, I get lots of weird looks. But not as often as I once did.

Can I communicate? Yes I can. Am I confident when communicating? Ususally. I think that’s the key to learning a new language, powering through your obvious mistakes to get your point across. And not only do that, but do it with a smile. Can I understand what’s going on around me? Yes. Usually if it’s on a topic I don’t have much vocabulary, it takes more energy. But I can usually form an opinion on the subject and convey it.

So where do I stand on fluency? I, by no means, can speak like a native. I can’t put up a newspaper and understand all the front page stories. Or listen to the radio and understand everything. I’m also horrible at Bulgarian riddles (why some people aske them, I have no idea). However, I’m going to define it as “being able to overhear things and understand what people are talking about when you don’t want to”. Listening to people talk about the Roma, people with dark skin and sometimes the President-Elect all fall into this category. It’s also getting harder to fake ignorance on the language. It comes with the territory, I guess. I’ll take that any day to prove my junior high Spanish teacher wrong. 🙂



One Response to “Fluency”

  1. Andrea Says:

    Hello Jimmy!
    I recently found your blog online and have been reading quite a bit of it. About a month ago I found out that I will be a PCV in Bulgaria as well! I’m trying to learn as much as I can before my orientation on May 19, which led me to your fluency blog. Like you, my biggest concern in joining the Peace Corps is the whole language aspect. I’ve been attempting to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and am slowly getting better, but it’s a lot more difficult than I had imagined! If you have any tips or strategies that helped you to learn, I would be very grateful! Hope all is well!

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