My husband, Peter, is learning Spanish his own way.
I do Duolingo online. It is free. It is easy to do. The whole thing is designed like a game, and dancing animated creatures hop up and down and celebrate every time I get five answers in a row correct. This shouldn’t matter to me, yet I find it deeply satisfying. Peter doesn’t do any of this.
Peter learns Spanish by talking with the sandwich shop staff.
Since we started staying in our little apartment in Mexico, Jorge, the resourceful owner, has converted what used to be a storage room into a sandwich shop. The sandwich shop is not large. There is a grill and a counter with a few stools, and that is it. But they make everything from scratch, and it is very good. Peter takes his long morning hike and stops by the sandwich shop, just inside the hotel, on his way back. He orders lunch.
Ten minutes later, either Eduardo or Miriam, the employees of the sandwich shop, knock on the door. Sometimes Miriam is accompanied by her small son, Santiago. Peter’s lunch arrives on a plate, and he pays for it, along with a generous tip. There is usually enough for two lunches, so he puts the leftovers in the refrigerator, and he’s all set for the next day.
I recently pointed out the obvious to Peter. “You are getting very spoiled.”
He does not argue. But in addition to getting a delicious lunch, Peter is working to improve his Spanish, and Miriam and Eduardo are eager to assist. The problem is that Peter has decided to forgo the usual “How are you? I am fine” first steps in language acquisition and jump right into real conversations. This has not always been successful.
“They were laughing like crazy at me!” Peter announced, not for the first time.
“What did you say?” I asked, a little afraid.
“I was trying to ask if Miriam and Eduardo were siblings. I asked them if they were hermosos.”
“They were laughing because you asked them if they were beautiful,” I said.
“Oh! I meant hermanos!” he replied.
“Yes, that would be different,” I said.
Miriam and Eduardo (and the rest of the staff) were still laughing about this when I left later in the day. I assured them that we thought they were all beautiful. A couple of days later, Peter came up from ordering lunch and reported that he’d done it again.
“Oh, boy! They are really laughing at me today,” he said.
“What did you say this time?” I asked.
“I tried to say ‘Mr. Muscles’ and they just stared at me,” he said. “I said Eduardo was Mr. Muscles because he was squeezing fresh orange juice by hand. But I said it again, and they started laughing. So I wrote it out on a paper — and they started laughing even harder!”
Peter showed me the paper as evidence.
“So, why are they laughing?” I asked.
“They said it was slang — that I said, ‘Show me your butt!’”
“Oh, dear,” I said.
“They are still laughing!” he responded.
Miriam and Eduardo are laughing almost every day at Peter, and I think Santiago, who is only 4, may have joined in.
But, amazingly, while providing daily entertainment, Peter is picking up quite a lot of Spanish. The first rule in learning a second language is to let go of the fear of making mistakes. Mistakes are a necessary part of the process.
Peter is very fortunate. He has found teachers who will not only forgive his mistakes — they are eagerly looking forward to the next time he makes one.
Till next time,
Carrie Carrie’s memoir is “Blue Yarn.” Learn more about her writing at CarrieClasson.com.