I can swim (Sé nadar).
I’m not a champion swimmer. I’m not even a particularly good swimmer. But I’m a competent swimmer. If I am at a social situation which involves swimming, I can join in if I want to.
If I should ever be on a boat that sinks, hopefully I can swim to shore or stay afloat long enough to be rescued.
If someone asks me if I can swim, I say yes.
In a similar vein, I can play tennis. I’ll never win Wimbledon, and I’m okay with that. But I can play.
And so on.
For some reason, many people do not apply the same standard to learning a language. They think that they can only say “Yes, I can speak Spanish (or whatever)” if they understand every single word and never make a mistake.
Now, never making a mistake playing tennis worked for Björn Borg, but I bet he didn’t wait until he had won Wimbledon before he said he could play tennis.
If you can understand every single word and never make a mistake in your second language, then I consider you ready to translate in the United Nations Security Council – the translating equivalent of playing in a Grand Slam final.
I don’t feel the need to quite reach that level, so if I can learn enough to earn the DELE diploma at B1 level, I’ll say Si, hablo español.
I successfully learnt another 70 phrases this week, which brings my grand total to 420. Today I’ll learn some phrases containing the verbs hacer (to do) and disfrutar (to enjoy oneself).