How to properly preface my attempts to speak Spanish?
As I take the steps to actually SPEAK Spanish, I am thinking that I might want briefly begin by informing said native speaker that I am new to speaking Spanish and to pardon my mistakes.
"Soy nuevo a hablar español. Perdonas mis errores."
As you can see by my level, I am missing some of the tenses and there is a good chance I am using the wrong words. My concern is that I want to be respectful and not come across purposely being insulting should I use the wrong word. :)
My further thinking is that by saying that I am new to Spanish, that will signal them to speak slower than usual.
So, am I close?
How to preface? Smile and offer a beer... But seriously, if anyone gets offended by language mistakes after a polite preliminary apology, they should be avoided anyway.
I think it's simpler to say that you are studying Spanish, rather than that you are new to it. (Ahora, estudio español.) I could be wrong, but I believe it will be a more immediately comprehensible statement. (In my experience, it also gets interest a lot of times. Oh, really? How long have you been studying for? Do you like it? etc.. You should probably be prepared to answer at least how long you've been studying. It seems a common response. You'll also want to be prepared to tell people where you're from - and if you're from the US, I would recommend using 'los estados unidos' rather than 'america'.)
As others have said, I don't think it's necessary to apologize, but personally, I understand the desire. I mean, I apologize for the mistakes I make in my attempts at Spanish in this forum, let alone in person. :) If you want to say something like that, I think it's fine, but your second sentence has some problems. First, you're using the tú form of the word, and if you're nervous enough to be asking forgiveness for your mistakes in advance, you should probably be using usted. Second, you're using the present tense instead of an imperative or suggestion. What you have there translates as, "You pardon my errors."
I would go with, "Perdona mis errores" or "Disculpe mis errores," possibly with a 'por favor' tossed in, because hey, it can't hurt, right? Maybe it's just because I spent time studying Japanese, or maybe it's because I did door-to-door canvasing in my youth and had to try to convince strangers to listen to me, but one way or another I am firmly of the opinion that unless you are explicitly told not to, it's usually just as well to be a little extra polite.
(There are some cultures where excessive politeness sounds untrustworthy, slippery, and deceptive. I believe that both in Finnish and, differently, in ASL, it's important not to lay on the courtesies as thickly as we might want to. But in Spanish, as far as I know, you're good to go.)
Just as an aside, being polite in ASL won't usually cause Deaf people to think you're untrustworthy - it will, however, mark you as "hearing". Deaf culture in general is very blunt and direct by nature, which means ASL is, by extension, a language where being direct is the natural form of expression. (A Deaf friend once greeted me with (in ASL) "Hi! Wow, you got fat!" which to him was a perfectly acceptable way to open the conversation... and in ASL, it is!) Where hearing people often get tripped up with this polite/not polite conundrum is, until you as a hearing person understand that that's how Deaf culture works, you often won't be privy to "real" Deaf conversations, because Deaf people don't (usually) want to shock/offend/upset hearing people who are genuinely interested in ASL - they do understand that their culture is different to most other hearing cultures in that way - so rather than sign the way they usually would, they'll stick to small talk. When that happens, you don't get exposed to the richness of the language, the things contained in ASL idioms, storytelling, etc, because Deaf people assume that if you can't "get" the bluntness, you're not ready for the more subtle stuff either.
I have a friend who had been learning ASL for 10 years and was about to get her certification as an interpreter (meaning she was much more fluent than I was), and together we went to a Deaf gathering. I saw a friend of mine across the room, walked right over to him and got his attention with a HEY wave (which would been very rude in a hearing context, as he was deep in conversation with two others at the time, and the ASL HEY wave is not subtle!). He turned and smiled, and I asked (in ASL) "What are we talking about?" and he replied TRAIN GONE, SORRY. I laughed and told him to come find me when he was done with his conversation. My soon-to-be-interpreter friend just about tackled me as I walked away and said, "What did he say to you?" I had to explain to her that TRAIN GONE, SORRY, means "It would take too long to fill you in!" (It comes from the English idiom, "that train has left the station" but it doesn't necessarily carry the implication that you're out of luck - often, especially if you've just arrived to an event, it's closer to "I'll tell you later," which is usually announced with TRAIN BACK! before they fill you in. (If you're truly out of luck, you might see CIGARETTE GONE instead, because after all, you can't unsmoke a cigarette.)
It turned out that she'd never seen TRAIN GONE and she'd never done a HEY wave (she knew what it meant, but doing one felt rude, so she'd never done it), and she'd never stepped between two Deaf people who were signing (which is also completely okay), and she'd definitely never seen BLOW-BRAINS-OUT (which looks exactly how you'd imagine, and means, "Geez, I feel dumb, I can't believe I can't remember that sign/piece of information!") So, there she was, with an ASL vocabulary I envied, but definitely way more on the "outside" of the Deaf community than I was. She even asked me if I thought the difference was that I'm in a wheelchair, whereas she is able-bodied. I told her no, as far as everyone in that room was concerned, we were both "hearing," but I was, for lack of a better term, Deaf-culture-aware, and she was considered to be not-Deaf-culture-aware, so everyone she spoke to avoided giving her much Deaf culture exposure, so as not to give her culture shock, which of course, becomes a self-perpetuating thing.
And that's where the "don't be polite" idea comes from vis-a-vis ASL. What it comes down to is, if you're too polite, you're considered not willing/able to understand Deaf culture, so you never get to learn the fun/colloquial/real world stuff.
That got longer than I intended, but I hope it was interesting.
Just as an aside, being polite in ASL won't usually cause Deaf people to think you're untrustworthy - it will, however, mark you as "hearing"...
Either that or from another Deaf culture, one that uses another sign language, right? http://libguides.gallaudet.edu/content.php?pid=114804sid=991920 has an index of sign languages from all over the world. :)
...I had to explain to her that TRAIN GONE, SORRY, means "It would take too long to fill you in!" (It comes from the English idiom, "that train has left the station" but it doesn't necessarily carry the implication that you're out of luck - often, especially if you've just arrived to an event, it's closer to "I'll tell you later," which is usually announced with TRAIN BACK! before they fill you in...
Like in the book Train Go Sorry by Leah Hager Cohen? :)
Tough question, actually! I have a few friends who use BSL (British Sign Language) and ISL (Irish sign language) and the directness of the culture is the same, even though many/most of the actual signs are vastly different. But that said, Deaf culture can be very microcosmic even within languages. I once managed to embarrass myself because the sign for "bug" in my local Deaf community (and almost all of the US, as far as I know) is the sign for "horny" in the very particular town in Michigan where I grew up and still visit. So it's probable that the expected "degree of directness" varies, but I would say it's more likely to vary from Deaf group to Deaf group than from sign language to sign language. When it comes to politeness in Deaf culture, it's only about half to do with the actual signs you use... the other half is being willing to behave according to Deaf social norms. So it's not that Deaf people don't like (or don't say) please, thanks, or sorry - I have one Deaf friend who is so genteel and well mannered, he insists on signing "you're welcome" with OK FINE SURE, even though any one of those would do! - it's that certain body language or behavior norms in the Deaf world(s) are considered faux pas in the hearing world, and if you're hearing and you really want to learn ASL, you have to get past that and "do as the Deaf do," whatever that may mean in the local group you're associating with.
And yes, exactly like Train Go Sorry, which is why I was admittedly a bit taken aback that my friend didn't know that one!
(Sorry for the off-topic posts, OP!)
It's always good to want to be respectful, and there's nothing wrong with explaining that you are learning, but most people will figure that out from the way that you speak, so don't worry about the "right" way to say that you're still learning.
I grew up speaking Spanish with Cuban family members, but my vocabulary is woeful nowadays due to lack of use, so this is how most of my conversations with Spanish speakers go:
(I say something in Spanish)
Them: Ah! ¿Eres Cubano?
Me: No, pero algunos de mi familia es Cubana. Lo siento, mi español no es muy bueno ya.
It's not particularly good Spanish (the reason I constantly get asked if I'm Cuban is because my accent is perfect, and the reason it's perfect is nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that I heard and spoke Cuban Spanish from infancy), and the apology isn't "necessary" per se. They're just curious about why the gringo has such a strong Cuban accent! But the reason I still use it - the reason I don't mind that almost every conversation I have in Spanish starts this way - is because it's a very nice crutch (or warmup, as it were) for me. It gives my brain some time to go "oh, okay, Spanish mode now," and to get together what I want to say next (which is usually more complicated than "Tengo familia cubana"!).
For a little while, I tried just saying "No, soy Americano," and jumping into the conversation, but my brain always tended to stall out after that... culminating in one particularly memorable incident wherein the other person requested, "Por favor escriba su nombre," and I responded with an utterly blank, ".... ¿Qué?" Which, considering it was my Cuban great-aunt who taught me how to escribir mi nombre, is quite a feat!
What I'm saying is, not only should you not worry too much about how you explain you're a learner, but also don't underestimate how useful it can be to you to state, in some way, "I'm still learning." Often, it may be more useful to you to take the time to say so (however you say it, and whether you say it well or not so perfectly) than it is for the native speaker to hear it.
I usually start saying something like, Por favor, necesito practicar mi español, Usted me puede ayudar... and by that time they are already nodding and agreeing. I find expressing gratitude and excitement goes farther than apologizing. They aren't bothered by my mistakes in Spanish any more than I am theirs in English (some speak English perfectly), so, why should I be... I remember to thank them, and I truly have fun and am grateful. By the way, I have never had anyone turn me down. Many are very good at helping and some are trying, but not great at it. It all helps! I think people like to help. Have fun!
Oh, and do learn to ask them to slow down (lentamente o despacio, por favor), or sometimes just say, otra vez, por favor. They will understand by your confused look. =)
One of my funniest experiences was a waiter from Mexico who was also a cook, got so far into helping me that he launched into a long statement about him being a cook as well, so he was really qualified to help us with the menu, etc. I looked glazed but answered, sí, having not gotten anything really out of the impassioned speech. He did not want to insult me by saying to me, you didn't get that, did you. So, with quick thinking, he turned to my friend across from me who had shown she was speaking far less Spanish than my few words, and repeated the entire speech directly to her, but in English this time. This time, everyone at the table understood, including, thankfully, me. We all had a good laugh.
Well, if you're having trouble or making errors they usually understand that you're just not fluent lol. Don't apologize, you're not intentionally butchering anything, you're just learning. And if you need them to speak slower, just ask rather than hoping they get the signal. Much more efficient.
Never worry about making mistakes as they are inevitable. Enjoy the language and if you accidentally offend someone and an appology is not suficcient, you'll never see them again on your next holiday.