On not Speaking Spanish (Very Well).
Monolingual English speakers from the US sometimes ask why (more) people in Nicaragua don't speak English, sometimes in amusing ways and sometimes in annoying ways. Some of them forget that in the US, many monolingual English speakers think that people who speak less than good English are less intelligent (and this also seems to apply to people who speak different dialects of English).
It's well to keep in mind that while mono-lingual Spanish-speakers tend to be more polite about those of us who don't speak good Spanish, at least some of them have the same feeling toward us that the "Speak English" people in the US have to people whose only fluent language wasn't English. If a person whose Spanish is minimal is fortunate, as I've been, someone will take some pains to make sure you know when the ladrons are around, will coach you on proper phrases for entering and leaving a store, and will treat you to water cress, orange bananas, and tell you to let her know when you leave town overnight.
If you're not fortunate, you'll have the same sorts of experiences that mono-lingual Spanish speakers have right off the bus -- you'll be cheated, underpaid, and while you'll have too much money to be forced to rent a bed in a house in a bad neighborhood, you may not strike the people around you as being fully adult until you speak Spanish fluently. Your position here, except for the money, isn't that different from the migrant to the US who hasn't mastered English. And like that migrant, you have two options -- either to live among a community of people who speak your language or learn enough language to get buy as quickly as possible, make sure you have expression in your voice and don't sound like a computer generator of Spanish phrases, and make connections with people who can help you with your Spanish in exchange for helping them learn more English (bilingual Nicaraguans) or spend some serious time in immersion schools (Juanno's six months to a year).
A friend who'd travelled in Europe said that most Europeans are amused by Americans claiming to be middle class or better and not being fluent in more than one language. Monolingualism is for the working classes. A Belgian woman said that nobody in Belgium thinks anything about learning multiple language. The country is tiny and everyone simply does it, including the working classes. The Americas tend to be more monolingual, either Spanish-speaking or English-speaking, because the areas where just having one language works are so huge.
At first, the idea of simply having to master Spanish was intimidating and dismaying. Maybe six months after I came here and could go to the market and buy the things I needed to survive, and could read legal Spanish (oddly enough, the easiest Spanish -- many cognates with English legal terms), I felt more confident. My small Spanish is now reasonable enough that people who I haven't been talking badly to earlier can generally understand me. Given the Internet, I'm not forced to learn better Spanish to have some kind of a social life (my Little USA on line).
I don't have a small sample, but my impression is that not being fluent in Spanish and expecting the same social role that one had in an English-speaking community tend to lead to some people feeling that they should take advantage of this, and to the perception that many of us are dumb with too much money.
The other thing is knowing that for most people, it takes six years of study to become genuinely fluent (to be able to think in the language, to have a close to native-speaker's understanding of the structure of the language). These are the people whose use of language is rapid, no apparent internal translation between their native language and the second language, even when they might still have an accent. The technical term for some kinds of mistakes that language learners make is "language interference" -- using the structure of one language with the vocabulary of another. Most of us who've taught non-native speakers find these all over our student's writings and have to ask questions about how their native languages work and help them analyze precisely how English doesn't do it that way ("English is redundant," one Spanish-speaking students from Nicaragua told me). The first language will always feel right. Being fluent in the second language means getting to the point where its structure feels right, too.
People who have simply retired here can get along for years with what I call Market Spanish -- you can feed and clothe yourself, and you know the numbers, months, and days of the week. You're not running a business, so the verb forms for did once and did habitually are not significant to you. You can use a handful of single first person and single second and third person verbs in the present and past tenses. What you won't have is complex conversations with your neighbors, an ability to listen to conversations in front of you on the bus or the radio. I think getting the Market Spanish down does give me more confidence that I'm eventually going to learn the rest of the, but I'm going to have to push myself for more. People can get by on Market Spanish. It's just a limited life with just that.
The other fear is that I'm too old to become fluent. The best way to protect the brain is get exercise and eat right, and drink a certain amount of coffee (newest research). Learning also protects the brain. And the other thing is that to live here fully, I have to be fluent, even, ideally, to the point of being able to write as well in Spanish as I do in English, because that's who I am.
The other thing is that really mastering a different language remaps who I am -- or who anyone is -- and the Market Spanish is a defense against that risk, that being another person with a different thought map. One person said mastering a new language is like tearing yourself apart and rebuilding. Thinking in Spanish means thinking in the ways that people here think, and everyone comes to terms with that in their own ways. One of the ways is to be the person who's lived here 15 years and who still isn't fluent, who still sees the Spanish-speakers as "them" in various ways. Most of the learning material doesn't touch on this, what linguists call the soft Sapir-Whorf aspect of what a language is inside our heads. (The extreme version of the Sapir-Whorf theory says that the language you think in determines absolutely what we can think -- the Prisonhouse of Language; soft Sapir-Whorf says language shapes but doesn't determine what ideas we can come up with, that we can invent the map to a certain extent).
For me, holding onto the prospect of really being fluent is like planning to dive off the high board, and ending up remapping, to a certain extent, how I think and what I think about. Spanish isn't as extreme as Chinese or Russian, but it's not English and its history is not England's and the US's.