Mexico is the land of professional wrestling.
And I have been wrestling with Spanish as earnestly as Jacob wrestled with the angel.
Except -- that is not really true. Even though I desperately need to know far more Spanish than I do, I keep floating along.
Let me catalog some very practical problems that have arisen because I do not know Spanish.
- When Jiggs appeared, literally, to be on his last legs in May, I could not find an English-speaking veterinarian to explain Jiggs's symptoms. A fellow blogger found an English-speaking veterinarian in Manzanillo, an hour drive away. I pay American rates for his care.
- I shop in the local vegetable and fruit market. I know the names of most of the produce. But I cannot speak enough Spanish to ask about new varieties and how to prepare them.
- Numbers still baffle me. I have no trouble asking how much something costs. But, I need the clerk to write down the total so I can understand the number. No one mocks me, but it is a nuisance.
- Marta, the maid who cleans the house I sit, speaks no English. After cleaning on Saturday, she came back to the house almost frantic. I could not understand her concern. We needed to grab one of the local property managers, who was pedaling by on her bike, to translate. Marta had lost the money I had paid her. For her, that was a disaster. We were able to fix the problem. But I should have been able to do that on my own.
Living in Melaque is not like living in the areas of Mexico where expatriates congregate.
Melaque is a tourist town. But it is a town for Mexican tourists. There is no premium for English speakers in the shops because very few shoppers speak English.
That is the practical reason why I need to learn Spanish: to be understood I need to speak the lingua franca.
But there is an existential reason, as well. Not learning Spanish will leave me in the role of a permanent tourist -- no matter how long I live here. I will be an absolute outsider looking in.
I also know that learning Spanish will not turn me into a cultural Mexican, any more than simply moving to Quebec would make me French-Canadian.
At best, I can learn to communicate in Spanish and be a part of the language community.
I have picked up a lot of Spanish simply by listening to the language as it is spoken, by working my way through my Spanish software, and by using the Spanish dictionary that Teresa gave me as a traveling gift.
I have the advantage of Marta being at the house three days a week. She teaches me new words when I ask.
Jiggs has been a big draw for Mexican children on the beach. They run up to him to pet him -- I think because he is so large. I have learned quite few words from them.
The conversation usually follows a normal pattern about whether he bites, how old he is, how big he is, whether he is a boy or a girl, why he walks so funny. Strangely, I have no confidence issues when talking with the children.
Yesterday I talked about the connections I am making with the few expatriates that have remained in Melaque for the summer. All of them speak Spanish to a degree.
So, here is what I intend to do.
You already know that I want to set up a rotating potluck. I need to ensure that some of the Mexican residents I know are invited. Most of them are functionally bi-lingual. We could learn from one another through conversation.
I need to be more diligent in using my Spanish software. I allowed my recent magazine treasure trove to distract me.
A local businessman offers conversational Spanish courses for expatriates. I am going to give it a try.
If that does not work, there is a professional course available in La Manzanilla. It is a bit too late in the afternoon for my "schedule." But I think I can work around it.
I brought my DVD collection with me to Mexico. Most of the movies either have a Spanish soundtrack or Spanish subtitles. I thought this would be an easy way to pick up some structure. Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to use my laptop to try any of my DVDs. But it is a resource for the future.
And then there is Marta. She is here often enough that I can put what I learn into practice without fear of embarrassing myself. She will gladly correct me when I need it, and that is often.
So, there it is. Melaque is a great environment for me to learn Spanish. I suspect that it is much better than one of the expatriate enclaves.
I have at least six more months to take advantage of the linguistic environment Melaque affords. I don't want to waste it.