I'm really wishing I had spent more concerted effort with my Spanish. As it is, I'm carrying around my intern handbook that has all the intern duties in it and what you could say to a client. I carry this little book into an appointment or a birth room and say "Mi Espanol es muy malo." (My Spanish is very bad) or with a gesture toward the book "Mi Espanol es aqui" (My Spanish is here). When I've misplaced this little book, I've even taken to saying, "Where did I put my Spanish?"
There are a couple of problems with this situation. The biggest for me is that I feel like I can't give very good care to these families when I'm not even close to fluent in their language. I always brace myself when I say "Tienes preguntas?" (Do you have any questions?). I know what I'm asking, but I rarely understand the actual question, and then I would have to somehow cobble together some bits and pieces to answer the question. The handbook is helpful, but it doesn't really help me put together my own thought, only hands me that of someone else.
The second problem is minor, really, as it's only about my ego. I know that people think that just because you don't know or understand a language that you must not be very smart. In my family of origin, Trivial Pursuit and games of strategy were practically aerobic sport. We really value our brains. So, knowing that my pathetic grasp of the language makes people think I don't know what I'm doing is very humbling. While I make a frantic mental search for what to say to people, they're rolling their eyes, or feeling frustrated, or feeling disrespected. Then I say something completely wrong, mispronouncing the words, and pantomiming to attempt to clarify. I rarely use verbs and when I do, I use the infinitive and don't even bother attempting to conjugate it. It's probably like trying to figure out what a toddler is trying to communicate to you. Sometimes I get my idea across, sometimes not.
Humor seems to be the best way to handle this situation. Though some of the situations I've been in the last few days have been anything but funny, at least we who are struggling with the language can laugh at ourselves. There is always someone here who knows more Spanish than I do, and as long as they know I'm trying to get it, they are willing to help.
I know for sure that in the future, I will try not to judge someone's intelligence solely based on the fact that he or she doesn't have a good grasp of the (only) language that I speak. I've met many people for whom English is not their second, but their third or fourth language. That's impressive, and shows a lot of mental flexibility.
I have a lot more practicing to do to get to feel totally comfortable, but it's definitely better than last year!