Sources of Joy: Writing en español

I’ve got to be honest.

Even though I’ve been working for Hoy for more than a year, a period in which I had made pretty substantial progress in my reading and speaking in Spanish, my writing has lagged far behind.

As in it still takes at least one, and sometimes two, colleagues to read through what I’ve written and correct all the errors.

Part of this is because learning to write accurately and well in another language is a very hard thing to do.

But part of it is also because, until recently, I hadn’t been doing it as much as I should have.

You see, in addition to making a lot more mistakes in Spanish than English and not yet having much of a writing voice, I also get the words down much more slowly en español.

Daily journalism is a deadline-driven enterprise.

When our editor Fernando moved up our deadline for our big health project by three full weeks, my commitment to, and practice of, going through what Fernando calls “the painful process” of composing your thoughts in another language receded.

Instead, Google Translate became my false friend.

Now I will be completely straight and say that, in a pinch, even though it can absolutely mangle colloquial expressions, a program that in which one can put 800 words in one side, press “Translate” and then see the entire piece in another language in less than a second is more than appealing.

It can be downright irresistible.

At the same time, Google Translate is a bit like cotton candy: it tastes real good going down, but, in the end, you’ve got a sugar coma.

This past week, I’ve done the proverbial hard look in the mirror and understood that there is no way to get better at writing in Spanish without putting in the time and effort, without going through the painful process.

So I’ve done just that.

Five years ago, when I was first learning Spanish, I committed to doing at least 20 minutes per day.

This could be listening to the radio, reading the newspaper or watching Destilando Amor, a telenovela starring future First Lady Angelica Rivera as Gaviota, a peasant farmer, with Dunreith. 

Many times I did more than 20 minutes.

But I never did less.

By the end of the project I was working on with my brother Jon, I could speak and understand well enough to carry on an interview and to discuss the project on an hour-long radio show hosted by Horacio Esparza.

Last week I set myself a daily goal of writing 500 words a day in Spanish.

I don’t have a set topic or timeframe, but, as with learning how to speak, it has to be every day.

Thus far I’ve written a humorous piece about learning Spanish from Gaviota and wondering what she’ll teach me now that she’s in line to be the country’s leading woman.  I’ve written about Chief Justice Roberts’ switch on the health care vote and the consequences and impact of the ceaseless flow of information that is permanently available to us.

One of the parts I love most about writing is just sitting down and starting to pour our my thoughts without a known destination-Joan Didion called this writing to find out what I think-and seeing what happens.

I’ve been doing that, too.

I don’t want to overstate my progress.

I still make tons of mistakes.

Editing my copy takes a lot of time and attention from my colleagues, and I’m grateful to them every day that they do it.

And I’ve yet to develop a full writing voice in Spanish.

But I’m improving

Little by little.

Poco a poco.

I’m starting to anticipate turns of phrases, remember accents and get tenses correct.

I’m starting just a little bit to think in Spanish.

And I’m having a lot of fun.

I’m not there yet, and, at this point in my life, put less stock in arriving at goals I set for myself than I did in earlier years.

That said, today I pushed the daily word count up to 750 words.

I’m about to turn in for tonight, but I’m excited tomorrow.

Porque voy a tener una otra oportunidad para escribir en español. (Another opportunity to write in Spanish awaits.)

Paz y alegría.






4 responses to “Sources of Joy: Writing en español

  1. Jeff — isn’t writing such a beast? I had plenty of practice writing Spanish in papers at Smith, but writing still confronts me to get every little one of those details right. I love what you said about Google Translate! Your 750 words a day goal is ambitious. Wow. Enjoy.

  2. Hey Jeff, great post. My son just got accepted into the TWI Spanish immersion program at our elementary school, and I am determined to recover what I learned and lost taking 2 years of college in Spanish 20+ years ago! My goal is to become comfortable having simple conversations. 20 minutes a day sounds like a great way to start. Maybe if I keep at it, I’ll be able to eventually translate and write as well. Thanks for sharing your experience – its encouraging to know what seems like a daunting and frustrating prospect could actually become a source of joy.

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