When in Rome … Mexico
In his book “The Brain Power Workout,” author Joel Levy states that learning new tasks, such as discovering a new language, is one of the best ways to stimulate brain power.
Said Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Visiting Mexico for the better part of 14 years, we have always intended to learn the language and feel more comfortable conversing within our local community. These intentions have been well meaning but unrealistic when only staying for a week or two. Now that we are here for most of the winter season, the excuses have run out and it’s time to stop procrastinating.
It is a personal decision as to which method of study works best –some like the privacy and intensity of one-on-one sessions, others opt for an online course or a group or school setting.
For myself, a combination of online and private lessons was the answer. The online work helps with my vocabulary but hardly allows for any type of fluid conversation. For sentence structure, pronunciation, correct choice of words and cultural idiosyncracies, one-on-one seemed best.
My experience has been fun, embarrassing, challenging, even frustrating, but I’m determined to persevere.
Early in the season, I was looking to buy some goat cheese. At the time, I thought “birria” was the word for goat and, of course, who doesn’t know that “queso” is cheese? Walking bravely up to the cheese counter at Pelayo’s in the Barrio, I asked for “queso de birria.”
When met with a puzzled reaction, I tried some sign language. I used my index fingers on top of my head to indicate horns and then said, “baaaahhhh, baaaahhhh.” The girls behind the counter were very polite, but had no idea what I meant and they could hardly contain their laughter. Later that week, I relayed the story to Luis from Mini Hawaii in Barra who laughed so hard he could barely stand. He then explained that birria is a famous dish often made with goat meat. The word I was looking for was “cabra.” He directed me to the cooler at the back of his store where he had a wonderful selection of cheese.
Recently, we searched out a renowned birria restaurant in Cihuatlan. To ask for directions, Doug stopped at a bike repair shop where the owner and a motorcycle cop were standing outside having a conversation. Again, something was lost in translation and Doug resorted to hand signs, pulling at a faux beard and making goat sounds. The officer chuckled and motioned for us to follow him. He led us directly to the restaurant – don’t you just love Mexico?
In “Boost Your Memory – and Sharpen Your Mind,” author Harold Taylor explains: “Many of us are poor listeners. We forget 75 percent of what we do hear within two months. We forget between a third and a half of what we hear within eight hours … the problem with our brain, and with memory and other cognitive skills, is that if we don’t use them we lose them.”
It seems the key to learning a new language is practice, practice, practice. Take advantage of any opportunity to speak and learn. When I’m at the market or in a restaurant, I often point to an object and ask for the Spanish word. “Como se dice (pointing) en Español?” I ask. It seems particularly helpful with simple things that I can’t seem to commit to memory, such as knife, fork, and spoon.
Flash cards and children’s books are also great tools for learning, as are the multitude of online language programs and smartphone applications such as Duo Lingo.com, Studyspanish.com and Synergyspanish.com.
Regardless of your learning preference, there are several options to choose from in Barra de Navidad and Melaque.
• Amiga’s – Spanish Lessons in Paradise, Barra de Navidad. Learn Spanish the easy way at Amiga’s “unschool” – an alternative approach. For information or to register, see www.easyspanish.net.
• Diana Gutiérrez’s La Voz Language School, Melaque. For beginners, intermediates and conversation groups. Call 315-355-5313.
• Juanita/Jane (works for Diana Gutiérrez, above), Barra de Navidad. Call 315-112-3707.
I know that I still have a long way to go with my lessons. It will definitely be more difficult when we go home to Canada for the summer. Good luck – buena suerte – to all who are navigating this exciting new road. And hasta luego.