Friday, August 08, 2008

a rose in spanish grammar

Factor #6 -- the challenge of a new language

This may seem like one of those factors that would apply to every area of Mexico. But, as every tourist discovers, you can easily visit Mexico without speaking a word of Spanish.

The services that count on tourist dollars hire people who can speak a number of tourist languages -- some extremely well. I remember a young waiter I met this year who spoke impeccable English. It turned out he was in Mexico only temporarily. He was raised in Fort Collins, Colorado.

There are plenty of stories like that. And people who are content with being permanent tourists in Mexico, there is no need to learn a single word of Spanish. We all know people who have been in Mexico for years who have gladly accepted that challenge.

Of course, they do not live in Mexico -- they cannot live when they cannot communicate. I always imagine that Mexico must seem to them about as incomprehensible as Gary Larson's Ginger the cartoon dog, who hears everything as: "Blah blah blah, Ginger." (Sorry for the petty larceny, Jonna.)

I know my limitations. Even though I have dabbled in a few languages over the years, I have been able to use them only after I learn the basics, put them to use on a regular basis (just like a child), and eventually learn to think in the language.

On a blog recently, someone posted a rule related to animal training -- horses, I think. It takes 30 days to teach a horse a command -- and it can be lost with one mere inconsistency. That is me. I cannot have too many English safety valves available or I will never learn Spanish.

I have picked up some great hints on how to start thinking in Spanish. The Learnables offers a good first step. I also have tools to build my vocabulary. I will try to get as much of that accomplished before I head south. But I know I will need to put what I learn in consistent use daily or it will simply slip away from me.

Is this factor still important to me?

Extremely. This is a make or break factor for me.

Grade for Melaque:


Melaque has a very small English-speaking expatriate community. And they do not huddle together as teeming masses. As far as I can tell, the English-speakers are spread throughout the town. As a Mexican tourist town, Spanish is the lingua franca. To survive, I will need to learn and to be brave enough to try out my language skills. And they will develop.

Who knows, I may be teaching that course in Western Civilization 201 at some Mexican university before I am put to my final rest. I may as well aim high.

Next post: time to read; time to learn; time to rest


islagringo said...

A very noble, and ambitious, goal indeed! If it weren't for my handful of faithful Mexican friends here, I probably would not speak as much Spanish as I do. This is definitely a bi-lingual island here. English downtown, Spanish everywhere else. Don't forget the interesting hurdle of regional accents! In the Yucatan, the final N in a word is pronounced as an M. Having Mayan words sprinkled amidst the Spanish is not uncommon either. Learning is always a challenge...sometimes good, often frustrating, but always worth it!

Babs said...

Glad you're committed to learning Spanish - we have a school here, Warren Hardy Language School that teaches based on learning after 40 - we learn differently after 40, they say - Believe me, almost everywhere you go in Mexico you will NOT find English - even in tourist areas. Puebla, Morelia, Mexico City etc. and many, many places in San Miguel - even the stores - come to you have to be able to speak. Muy importante.

Steve Cotton said...

Wayne and Babs -- One lesson I have learned from my fellow bloggers that not learning Spanish is easily the quickest awy to an incomplete experience in Mexico. (I suspect the stupidest thing is to buy or use drugs in Mexico -- but that is a completely different experience.) Being a kinetic learner, I need to learn some language tools and then get out there and use them.

Have the two of you read "Translator/Guide Gang" on "Gangs of San Miguel de Allende?" It is at:

I literally come close to dying every time I read it.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Very good plan. Here are some of my favorite false cognates embarazado,ropa and excitado, they will trip you up if you aren't careful. The translations are pregnant,clothes and sexual excitement. If you are embarrassed you are avergonzado (but that is more ashamed, shy is tímido)
rope is soga, and excited is emocionado . If you use the others you will certainly have some interesting stories to tell.

Brenda said...

Yes, learning the language is the key that will open many doors in your new home, wherever you end up.

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- And I will undoubtedly commit every single mistake. My mistake last month of asking if "I could eat a bull" when I meant "what do bulls eat" was a perfect example. I look forward to many more. Ropa throws me almost every time. As does sopa.

Brenda -- I will keep on practicing.

Anonymous said...

i had to laugh at theresa's comment because it brought back another memory. i almost, luckily i caught myself, used the word excitada instead of emocionada. so you see, sometimes even for native speakers who are from other countries, words can have different meanings. just like my monos story. we all make mistakes and sometimes they later make for a good story. just keep practicing your spanish, it does not need to be perfect. i remember you made a comment about feeling like you speak the language at the level of a 4 year old. someone i know was actually told this and he became very discouraged. do not get discouraged, it's better to practice and make mistakes, than to give up altogether. not that i think you would give up-i know you have what it takes.

have a great weekend steve. i'm off to mt. rainier on sunday for 3 days of camping and hiking.


glorv1 said...

Learning Spanish is almost like learning Portuguese, or Italian. They come very close in pronounciation. Of course I speak English first and Spanish only if I have to. Just remember your numbers: uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez. Oh and yes remember that Setenta is seventy, and Sesenta is sixty. For example: (hehehe) did you know that 35.71 is Treinta y Cinco Punto Setenta y Uno? I didn't either, I just looked it up for you. Just joshing, you will learn good. Take care.

Steve Cotton said...

Teresa -- Thanks for the encouragement. In truth, I would feel complimented if someone said I could speak as well as a four year old. Enjoy the mountain. It should be beautiful this weekend.

Gloria -- Those pesky numbers will continue to haunt me. But I will keep trying. What I need to do is start listening.

American Mommy in Mexico said...

this is kinda an odd comment but I Really Like Your Blog Role! I am having fun exploring the various Mexico blogs ...

Steve Cotton said...

american mommy -- Enjoy away. I find it a great reference myself. Now that they sort by updates, I can keep up with each of them religiously.

Alan said...

Is Ft Collins Mexico near Ft Collins Colorado? Sorry Steve, I could not help myself!

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks, Al. That is why I rely on the kindness of readers. This journalism-on-the-run has its drawbacks. But, like an etch a sketch, all can be made right quickly. Were that our lives had such shortcuts.

Jonna said...

Steve, my RSS feed got gunked and I'm just now getting all my feeds back. I'm catching up on your blog and really loving it. Good work!

When I named my blog after the cartoon I didn't really think much about it, I just liked the cartoon and figured I wouldn't have anything very important to say. Your point above though is meaningful. It is very easy to let conversations that are difficult to understand just fall into the Blah Blah Blah hole in your mind. It's a struggle sometimes to force myself to really listen, and I'm convinced that really listening is the most important language skill you can develop. Just remember to pay attention to the end of words, something we don't do in English but is key in Spanish. That's my tip of the day ;)

Steve Cotton said...

Jonna -- Thanks for the grammar hint. When my Latin was fresh, I was much better at listening to endings. It certainly would have helped with my misunderstanding of the bus driver.

Anonymous said...

Hola Steve,

And now for another in my series of exhaustive tips on learning Spanish.

One of the best books I've ever read on learning Spanish is "Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish" by Joseph J. Keenan.

As the author puts it, "This book is not a phrasebook and not a text book, though it can be used with either. It is more like a guidebook--not to the Spanish-speaking countries, but to the Spanish spoken in those places."

This book is well-written, and very funny. Even if you don't want to learn Spanish, it'd be an amusing read. I highly recommend it. I've probably read it a dozen times and learn something new each time.


Kim G
Boston, MA

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- Sounds like a good book to buy. I am heading over to Amazon right now.