November 3, 2009

Learning Spanish - really learning - es muy importante

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - In the last couple of years, my Spanish language speaking (and listening) skills have progressed from those of an elementary school student to, oh, a not-very-bright teenager.

The emphasis here is on not-very-bright.

Still, I have been generally pleased with progress and by the end of May last year, was able to converse pretty freely with my Spanish-speaking neighbors (vecinos) and friends (amigos) in Arroyo Seco and La Manzanilla.

They apparently don't mind talking to a not-very-bright teenager encased in the body of a 60-year-old gringo.

But Monday I realized that resting on my laurels is not a good idea. I need to begin to push a little harder this year. Maybe I'll learn how to use the past tense. Woo-hoo!

Devani with shaker toy
Goddaughter Devani at her birthday party last May

What has prompted this semi-come-to-Jesus-moment about getting more fluent was trying to talk on the telephone Monday with Mimi, the mother of Devani, our goddaughter. When Devani was born, she and her mother (and grandmother and grandfather) all lived in La Manzanilla, eking out a living cleaning houses and running a tiny restaurant out the front of their house. And, being good godparents we saw them often. When needed, we helped out by buying medicine for the baby and sometimes basic foodstuffs when there wasn't much work.

A few months ago, the family picked up and moved to Ensenada where they were able to find work. La Manzanilla had no work for them at all. In fact, if reports are accurate, the village could use a serious infusion of gringo cash to get some pesos in the pockets of the local Mexican residents.

But I digress.

When the phone rang - and the Admiral said it was Mimi - I knew trouble was afoot because I had received an email a few days earlier indicating that Devani had been going to the doctor. But Monday morning, Devani had returned from a trip to the hospital where the doctors said expensive asthma medicine was desperately needed.

Emphasis here on desperate. Emphasis here on expensive.

I would like to say I learned all this because I understood Mimi just fine in our telephone conversation. But I didn't. I picked up that the baby was sick, that Mimi wasn't too hot either, that there was some work but they were struggling financially. And I heard a lot of very-frightened-mother incantations (in-between sobs) and the Spanish verbs came at me faster than dodgeballs in a junior high school gym class.

What I could not understand was how serious things were - and also how to get some money into Mimi's hands for the medicine.

Western Union
Western Union - they'll take your money

Lucky for all of us, Mimi was telephoning from a home where she and her mother work three days per week. The owner speaks enough English for us to work out the details of how to get some cash across the border for the 18-month-old's asthma medicine.

It turned out that good old Western Union is the transfer vehicle of choice and by late afternoon (and a quick trip by Adm. Fox to the WU office), the medicine for the baby should have been purchased.

In Mexico, you can do the same thing, but by wandering to any Coppel store, which does wire transfers of money, too.


So what's the next step in the search for fluency?

Una pregunta buena ( good question). Perhaps there's a good ITouch app that I can wire into my brain while I sleep.

Or perhaps my amiga Laura Warner can put me into a language training program this spring. (She already has me taking four vitamin and mineral pills a day to ward off H1N1, as well as the myriads of germs lurking around the university.)

Or I could just plain old study, I suppose.

Hmm.. I think I'll try the ITouch first - and download a few ukulele tunes at the same time.


California Stem Cell Report said...

Don't feel too bad about not handling the phone conversation well. Spanish is harder to understand on the phone. Mexican friends say the case is the same with English. Probably because we miss all the visual aids.

VisitLaManzanilla said...

I have a great teacher here in La Manzanilla, Irma, let me know when you get here and I'll put you in touch. Don't be too hard on yourself, Spanish via phone is very difficult.