In Costa Rica, the care of tile floors is practically an art form. Their love for a shiny, clean surface is evidenced by the amount of time they spend tending to the dirt and dust. For a Costa Rican woman, the state of the floor is a display of their value and hospitality. After all, that is the first thing you see when you enter a house. I have heard of 4-step rituals, and the constant application of clean towel on the end of their mop stick. Once a day is often considered a minimum frequency, and with all that practice, Ticas can accomplish it faster than gringos would think humanly possible.
So when I was waiting at the doctor’s office and saw a cleaning lady go in with a broom, I sat up and paid attention. Because, honestly, my floors can use some help. After sweeping, she squirted the floor with some cleanser from a spray bottle, wiped it all down with microfiber mop, and that was that. Granted, this was not an authentic, cultural technique. But it worked. And it was simple enough that I could do it, too, even in the midst of our full-court press on the Spanish language. We inherited a part-gallon of Windex and a microfiber mop when we moved into this house, so all the tools were at hand. It was even a little fun to feel like I was cheating the pail-of-water system. Getting happy floors was the point.
I’m coming around to the same realization with my Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, my inner grammarian is looking forward to tackling the 15 rules of the Subjunctive. Every day, we are adding vocabulary. I long for the day when all of my articles and adjectives will match their nouns—which is a perfect sentence for using the 1st rule of Subjunctive, by the way. But my head is better at stocking new information than my mouth is at using it. This week, I packed away the perfectionism and put my emphasis purely on speaking. I made hundreds of mistakes—on things that I already know, too—but I blew my old personal best for spontaneous Spanish out of the water. Following another student’s lead, I wrote my notes for a presentation in English so I couldn’t read it off line-by-line. Then I actually went 15 minutes over without even touching my third page of notes. It wasn’t the musical fluidity I hear all around me, but you know what? It worked anyway.
When I was high and, um, not so dry, in a public bathroom last month, Spanish was my only option. The lady in the stall next to me chuckled and passed me a wad of toilet paper even though I put my pronoun in the wrong place. My conversation partner in the cell phone store smiled and corrected me at least a dozen times this week, but he encouraged me that he could always understand what I meant.
And isn’t that what it’s all about? As I Google Translate the newest vocab list, study the 3rd Rule of Subjunctive, and plan out a 20-25 minute bible story for the upcoming week, I can feel it. This process is working. I may sound like a 1st grader sometimes, but I sound like a 1st grader in Spanish. God is building this language in us like a cathedral for His glory. Every day we lay more foundation and put up supporting rafters. Over the course of time, we will get to frame the stained glass windows and lay the tile floors.
But when we do, I fully intend to clean them via Sweep, Squirt, Mop.