Sunday, March 12, 2017

on the road with duolingo

She was an attractive latina. About my age. Maybe a bit younger.

We were seated across from one another at yesterday's thank you lunch for frequent cruisers. She was speaking English to a woman at the other end of the table. I thought I heard her say: "Brazil."

When we were called to the buffet line, she was behind me. I started in English -- a language in which she very uncomfortable. So, I told her, I knew a bit of Spanish and very little Portuguese.

What ensued was a linguistic version of Mr. Toad's wild ride. She indeed was from Brazil. As was her thirtysomething son -- an international attorney from the state of Espirito Santo, who spoke no English, very little Spanish, and found my Spanish to be baffling. But the three of us talked and talked.

Both of them stuck to me through the line. It reminded me of just how desperate we can become when deprived of our native tongue. We humans are a communicative bunch.

When I moved to Mexico, I wasted a lot of time avoiding Spanish. There are a lot of reasons for that. But all of them are silly.

I knew that speaking Spanish would make living in Mexico simpler -- and far more enriching. It is possible to live there without knowing the daily language, as long as you are satisfied to sequester yourself with other English speakers as if you were spending gin and tonic afternoons at the officers' club in the Raj.

But it was not until I bought the house in Barra de Navidad that I sat aside time each day to tackle the language. It has been difficult. But I can see and hear the progress I have made in my daily contacts with Dora (the woman who helps clean my house), Antonio (the pool guy), and my neighbors. Barco, of course, was a great conversation tool with my neighbors. We still talk about him.

My routine at home is to open Duolingo on my telephone before I get out of bed. I usually spend about a half hour on five lessons.

To run the application, I require either a cellular or internet connection. I knew that once I left Mexico, I would be without cellular coverage. The ship's internet connection has been my linguistic lifeline. Another good reason to shell out the dollars I did for internet service.

After I complete my daily Duolingo lessons, later in the day, I willo spend time on my workbooks -- trying to learn some new arcane twist in Spanish.

But the most effective learning tool is trying the patience of waiters, neighbors, and shopkeepers with my new-found knowledge. Bit by bit, my ability has grown -- as my experience with the Brazilian couple shows. At least, I have more confidence.

When I started cruising, Spanish was a quite common language amongst the staff. No more. The most common languages are Indonesian and Tagalog. Filipinos, who once spoke Spanish as their second language, now speak English, instead.

So, my opportunities to learn more Spanish by speaking it are rare. Annga, my cabin steward from Indonesia, has been trying to learn a few Spanish phrases to humor me. But it is hardly the same.

Not all is lost. Cristina, the young woman at guest relations who helped remedy my initial internet problems, is from Mexico. A good portion of our transactions have been in Spanish -- as have my discussions with two latinas on the tour excision desk: one from Colombia, the other from Ecuador. And, on the way to my cabin to publish this piece, I ran into a latina from Mexico City.

Because I have not had much opportunity to speak Spanish, I have been pinging away on Duolingo. At least, it keeps my ear attuned to the language -- and it does help expand my vocabulary.

I look forward to returning to Mexico and putting my new knowledge to use by inquiring about the health of Julio's sick bear who eats penguins.

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