Joder Tío: The JT-Bomb We All Need
When caution becomes the enemy, just let it rip. Especially if you want to succeed.
As kids on family vacations, my parents had us keep a travel journal. Each night, they encouraged us to jot down cultural observations from whichever land we were in, our favorite painting at the museum, the most delicious item we ate, the most intriguing people watching moment.
Day one, line one, July 1991, Madrid.
“I love this city. I will live here one day and become fluent in Spanish.”
Day one, line one, July 1995, Madrid.
“Llegue a Madrid! Pensé que hablaba español pero en la primera comida (no se dice almuerzo aquí) no entendí lo que dijeron.”
Translation: I thought I spoke Spanish but in reality I did not understand sh!t.
Madrid Spanish is a unique Spanish; I would be lying if I were to deny that it were my favorite. It is deep, low places deep, fast, a hundred miles a minute fast, and its own universe, one I was dying to become a part of. After a few days surrounded by its buzz, I quickly realized that although the aforementioned points came naturally to me, to sound like a proper Madrileño, I was going to have to start dropping the JT-bomb, joder tío (which literally translates to 'f*ck uncle'), every few sentences.
And drop it I did. Unabashed and ready to conquer.
Becoming fluent in a language is not dissimilar from mastering a sport, starting your own company, shifting careers, or taking on a new personal challenge. You must absorb the environment, a.k.a. accent and gestures, and let them penetrate you. From there you imitate the intonation, i.e. style and form, until it feels natural. You memorize vocabulary on endless flashcards and recite conjugations, i.e. the technicals, until you sound borderline insane. You engrain these technicals, this arsenal of tools, in your bloodstream, until they permeate your subconscious. You put in the reps, you practice, like Iverson said. But at a certain point, you have to just pick a line and joder-tío-go-for-it.
Which is exactly what I did as I galavanted across Madrid morning through night, clad in first edition Zara lycra & sunglasses to push my hair back like all the Madrileñas. Armed solely with a paper map, pocket dictionary, mini notebook and mini-er pen, I would listen, absorb, and then, quite frankly, spew, to everyone about everything. At the tapas bar and in the subway, at the plaza and in the club. I went for it.
Back then I was never afraid to mess up; it was all just a bunch of words into ether with no perceived dire consequences. Well, aside from that one time at a coffee bar in the then relatively sketchy Lavapiés neighborhood, when I told a gypsy guitar player I was going to shoot him. That was not ideal, especially since what I meant to say is that I would buy him a coffee in unintimidated local slang. A definite JT-bomb moment, but I digress.
The difference between speaking and being fluent, skiing and shredding, doing and crushing, acting and owning, is picking a line, a goal, and just spraying it all out until that one day you finally nail it. But for that to be possible, you have to put in the reps and trust in the technicals, keeping in mind that, technically speaking, technicals are literally defined as part and art part craft, part qualitative and part mechanical, part you and part ‘it.’
When ‘it ’is the goal, whatever it is for you today, there is only one thing to remember: caution is the enemy of fluency.
*Photo from Plaza Mayor, Madrid, teaching yoga & meditation 3,000 Spaniards in fluent Spanish, 24 years after that first journal entry.