As a small child, I accompanied my father, who was in the US Navy, and mother to Venezuela for a two-year tour of duty at the American embassy in Caracas. We sailed on a cruise ship to that country when I was about two.
As a result, I spoke Spanish before English. However, when we returned stateside, I was about 4 and apparently didn’t like being “different” and refused to speak Spanish. So, I lost my first language, only to regain a tiny bit with Spanish classes in school.
In my last job as a shuttle driver in the Sacramento area of California, some words would come back to me out of the blue as I struggled to talk to Spanish speakers from around the world: Mexico, Spanish, Argentina, Brazil and Peru, spring to mind. This always surprised and delighted me.
One of my goals in my travels to Central America, and now Mexico, has been to relearn this beautiful language. I barely scratched the surface in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala – although I did try. At the end of five months in those countries, I had maybe 30 words at my disposal.
Different story here in Mexico. First, there are much fewer people that speak English here than in Costa Rica and secondly, because I’ve persisted in trying my taxi drivers and the local merchants have kindly tried to help me. Not only are they kind enough to struggle to understand me, but most will make corrections so I don’t continue to make mistakes. And my truly regular peeps will comment on my progress.
The lady who gives me my weekly “treatment” – either a massage, facial or pedicure – was slightly embarrassed when she told me last week that I speak better Spanish now than she does English. I’m pretty sure I glowed after that compliment.
When I struggle with a concept or sentence construction, I jot it down and go back to my computer to do the English to Spanish translator thing and then I write the new word or phrase down in my notebook. I try to use the new “palabra” several times over the next days or whip out my notebook to read the longer things right from the page.
I’ve had some trouble trying to tell people that I’m going home to take care of my mother after her knee surgery but I’ll be back in August to stay in Manzanillo for six months. So, instead of repeatedly saying “mi madre” and pointing at my knee scar from my own surgery accompanied by various forms of Spanglish, I finally wrote down two sentences and whipped out my trusty notepad and rattled off my explanation to a young girl who I’d tried to explain this to before.
She grinned and then hugged me and said she understood – finally.
I recently rode with a cab driver who had gone to college in Vancouver, Canada, and spoke English perfectly. But, oddly enough I couldn’t speak English – I kept slipping back into Spanish. It felt kind of weird – but I know that means I’m getting there and that makes me very happy – mucho feliz!