Thanks for your comments on my last post. I know I was a bit down in the dumps when I posted. A lot of you dropped me encouraging messages telling me that things with our housing would get better, and a few of you even shared your own housing horror stories. I really appreciated the pep talks and your heartfelt messages.
Things with our apartment are much better. Andy put up some plastic tarp outside one of the leaking windows in advance of rain and we’ve been staying dry. Plus, I think the leaking was due to a huge (and unusual) storm and we haven’t had a similarly powerful storm since. And much to my surprise, my bathroom hasn’t been smelling of sewage lately. Also, last night the apartment owner came by with an architect and they examined the sink drain and came up with a fix-it plan to reduce the sewage smell should it rear its ugly head again. Mi casa es bien!
I thought I would use this blog post to talk about our experience learning to speak Espanol.
I’m not a language person. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a “bad at languages” person although I did get pretty good at understanding Patois when we were Peace Corps volunteers in Jamaica. I also studied conversational Hebrew in high school one night a week for twelve weeks during my senior year of high school. This twelve week course earned me two years of foreign language credit in college! To this day, I still don’t understand how this happened.
Before I got diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Andy and I began an adult evening Spanish class at our local adult school, but we had to drop the class after only four weeks because of my diagnosis. So I didn’t get much out of it which was too bad.
We always knew we didn’t want to be those “ugly Americans” who live in a foreign country but do not speak the language. We resolved ourselves to lessons and to making an effort to speak Spanish whenever possible. Andy had two years of Spanish in seventh and eighth grade, and of course because he’s a writer, he has a great understanding of how sentences are constructed. Me, not so much. Speaking Spanish is a chore for me. I persevere and I persist, but it’s hard! I’m blaming it on my chemo brain because it’s a good excuse, and because I don’t want to have to admit that my brain is simply made of putty.
In our first three months here, our Spanish improved, but not by very much. I know about 20 sentences and I used them over and over. While I was learning tons of new words, I could not put a sentence together to save my life!
When we got to Guanajauto, we took the plunge and enrolled in an intensive Spanish school to build our skills. Now we’re students again! Five days a week from 10 AM-12 PM we go to classes at Escuala Falcon, a kick-ass Spanish school which is located an eight minute downhill walk from our casa. We each take two classes, Comunicacion y Vocabulario and Pronunciacion y diccion. I go five days a week and Andy goes three. We also take a cooking class once a week. Last week we made my favorite Mexican dish, chillaquilles, and this week we’re going to make fried fish.
We love so many things about this school. The school is professionally run, and classes are inexpensive. We’re each paying $75 a week for two-hours a day of instruction in a group setting with 3-4 other students. And get this… if they don’t have anyone at your level (and truthfully, no student could be as bad as me) they put you in a PRIVATE class so you get one-on-one instruction, but at the group rate fee!
Hooray!!! So far, they have not had any other students at either of our levels so we’ve both been in private classes. All of the instructors are in their 20s and are extremely patient and they try to make learning fun. They use flash cards, and games to keep me entertained. I’m enjoying both classes, but I like my conversation class better. The pronunciation class is horribly painful. I feel badly for my teacher, Jessica, who has to hear me butcher her beautiful language five days a week.
Every night we have homework, which usually takes me 15 minutes or so and I practice for at least an hour a day (usually two) on my own. I love using Duolingo. If you are not familiar with this great language app and you want to learn how to speak another language, download it. My Spanish is improving daily and I’m so happy with our decision to do a language immersion program. I plan on continuing with lessons when we move to Zihuatanejo in October.
So here’s an interesting question. Do we really need to speak Spanish to live here? Could we get by speaking only English?
Truthfully, in Zihuatanejo, I think we could get by. You don’t need to speak Spanish to go to the grocery store, and in restaurants by the beach most wait staff speak basic English. But dealing with shopkeepers at the fish market, or a handyman at your house, or even salespeople in department stores where almost no English is spoken would be difficult. In Morelia (where we want to live next summer) or in nearby Patzcuaro, English is very rarely spoken and it would be impossible to get by without some basic Spanish.
In Mexico, I’ve found that if I am really struggling, a magical person will appear to help me get out of my jam. If four or five people are within earshot, someone will rescue me. Example, I was buying fish on Sunday and there were 5 people at the fish counter standing near me. After I ordered, the clerk was giving me a puzzled look, the other people were giving me puzzled looks, but then a man chimed in speaking perfect English and rescued me. Saved!
Not fifteen minutes later we were checking out at the grocery store and I had three bottles of beer in our shopping cart. The cashier removed all three bottles. At first we thought it was because she didn’t know the price. But she never asked a runner to check them. So I didn’t get my beer despite many attempts to have her put them back in our cart. What happened? No idea. It may have been because Guanjanto is “dry” on Sunday after a certain hour. While my beer was being held hostage. I told her, “Usted es feliz sin cerveza.” Oops. Andy cracked up. Why would she be happy without my beer? I got sad and happy mixed up. I needed to say triste not feliz. And I meant to say me but I said you. This happens to me all the friggin time. It’s pathetic.
Despite these frequent and highly comical mishaps, I’m loving Spanish school. Our classes always start on time, they organize daily field trips and this week I learned how to conjugate Spanish verbs. Andy of course, is rocking his Spanish. It’s growing by leaps and bounds. Mexicans are really happy when we try to speak Spanish with them. They just beam and are very forgiving when I make a mistake.
Guanajuato is a magical place. We’re so glad we decided to study here. I had never heard of Guanajuanto before my friend, Carol Langbort, told me about it. They have a huge art, music and film festival here every October and while we won’t get to attend this October, perhaps in the future we will come back.
Check out this video about this magical place!
OK, I have to go do my homework now. I have to write 8 sentences in espanol using verbs such as “to eat” and “to walk”.
Adios mi amigos y amigos. I miss you mucho!