Monday, May 27, 2013

Struggling in Spanish

I want to learn to communicate in Spanish and I’m trying. I really am. I have Rosetta Stone, dictionaries, grammar books, flash cards, Spanish music CDs, and videos. I study daily and try to use the language at every opportunity. At first it seemed easy. The alphabet is similar to ours, the pronunciation is straightforward and consistent, and the concept of gender for nouns is like Italian. Sentence structure, although different from English, is logical and easy to remember. But Spanish is hard.

 Minor mispronunciations can make monumental differences in meaning. When I thought I was asking a street sweeper for directions to the nearest bank I was given directions to the lovely benches along the waterfront instead. While I thought I was being polite in using the formal “usted” (you), I’ve now been informed by a native speaker that, in this part of Mexico at least, rather than coming across as respectful, I sound stilted and “weird.” 
I always try to be considerate. I never start speaking to someone in English without first asking if they actually understand my language. Sometimes even that simple question in my hesitant Spanish generates confusion. Apparently there is a fine line between the word for English and the word for the place on one’s body where the inner thigh meets the torso. So I’m not sure exactly what I may have said to the bank teller but I now understand why her co-worker was struggling to suppress a giggle. And, best of all, the word for year is painfully similar to the word for anus. Hopefully I haven’t yet told anyone that I have 63 holes in my butt when I meant to say I am 63 years old.
There is so much that I miss by not knowing Spanish. I can’t understand the marine weather forecasts on our VHF radio or read a newspaper. Only occasionally do I know what I am ordering in a restaurant. I can never eavesdrop. And, you know telephone recordings in the U.S.: Press this for Spanish and that for Cambodian and something else for French or Tagalog or whatever? In Mexico you understand Spanish or you hang up.
On the positive side, the Mexican people are very forgiving and patient while I mangle their language. They help me find the words and correct my pronunciation. They smile a lot and we laugh together and usually we manage to communicate with a mixture of English, Spanish, and hand signals. It all works out and even when I am misunderstood, it is all good. Instead of going to the bank I had a nice rest on the benches overlooking the bay. Instead of eating zucchini I enjoy carrots. It’s all a grand adventure and I love every minute of it.

P.S. Yes, I know that the photos have nothing to do with the text, but a post without pictures looks naked and you don’t really want to look at photos of my flash cards, do you?


  1. Wouldn't that be sort of like "looking at my etchings"? Sure, Janet - I'll check out your etchings any time! Love the onjos versus anjos or whatever - you've got the right attitude and I have always found the people in Mexico to be very forgiving and gracious, too. In fact, I don't recall ever being treated rudely by a Mexican, though I have been 'dismissed' by foreigners working in Mexico. I got some scallops and made some ceviche the other night - it reminded me so much of a little cantina I used to visit on the beachside streets in Zihuatanejo. So happy you're enjoying yourself, Janet. Keep the blogs coming, my friend. I love you, and it was nothing but AMAZING talking with you this morning! Hugs and kisses from both of us.

    1. Ceviche... yum. Before I came to Mexico I had only eaten it made with scallops. Most of the time here it is made with fish. Several sidewalk stands sell it in Ensenada, with chopped tomatoes, a little onion, a hint of jalepeno and lots of cilantro, served on freshly fried tortilla chips with a wedge of lime on the side. Can't wait for you to come visit me to share some of this wonderful food and a few cervezas!