Monday, May 28, 2012

My Pencil Box is Red

By early August we had actually made it to Patzcuaro, and what became immediately evident to me was how little Spanish I spoke. This would not have been such a surprise were it not for the fact that I had been studying religiously for two years prior to leaving Vancouver.

When we first arrived here we spent endless hours walking the streets, exploring the markets and listening to the people. I was confounded by the fact that I could not understand a single word anyone was saying. In retrospect, when I see myself standing in the street taking this in, the term "deer in the headlights" comes to mind. There are a number of reasons that I found myself in this situation, not the least of which, is the inane things they teach you in Spanish classes. It came to me in a blinding flash that I was surrounded by hundreds of people who did not give a crap that my pencil box was, indeed, red.

In Vancouver when I had learned enough Spanish to begin stringing sentences together I was so delighted that it didn't really occur to me that I was unlikely to use most of the content I had learned in an actual conversation. Alright, I admit to using a certain amount of hyperbole here. When I arrived in Mexico I did have enough of the fundamentals to ask the questions for things I needed to know. I simply couldn't understand the answers. This was a totally unexpected conundrum, and I guess it had also not occurred to me that everyone would not speak as slowly and clearly as my instructors, both in the classroom and on CD, had done.When confronted with rapid-fire Spanish spoken with slang and numerous different accents I was completely daunted and feared for ever actually being able to understand people here.

OMG They Talk So Fast

I have been enamored of Mexico for over 20 years and now that I was finally living here, the fact that I was  unable to interact with the people around me was devastating. However, it was those same kind and patient people who  taught me that there are many ways to communicate. I found their patience and good natured teasing with my limited Spanish and their willingness to share and teach incredibly heartwarming. I began to relax and remember why I had come here in the first place. The language would come eventually.


  1. Ah, "the green fountain pen is stuck in the baked chicken" syndrome. I know it too well.

  2. I think all of us learning a new language do!

  3. Shannon, How is your Spanish now? I know you and Todd go off the beaten path quite a bit....

    PS added you to my blogroll...

  4. About this time last year, I stopped at Mega here in San Miguel and there was a nice couple sitting on an ATV next to my truck. He struck up a conversation as I went past and we chatted for about 15 minutes. Afterward it occurred to me that I had had an entire conversation in Spanish without thinking about it or grasping for words. I'm far from fluent but definitely much improved.

    Thank you for the blog roll Nancy, I will do the same with yours.

  5. I can relate to this post so much! I have been studying for several years and still can't understand the rapid fire Spanish speakers either. I am glad to know that it will improve when I actually move to SMA. Thanks for a good laugh.

  6. My pleasure. I think it will be easier if you are not immediately expecting to understand everything when you first arrive. As long as you work at it, it will all come together. When are you moving to SMA?

  7. We won't be there full time until probably 2016. We get down there a couple of times a year though. We have a lot that we will build on when we get there full time. I am soooo ready to be there now! It can't get here fast enough for me.

  8. That's great, I'm sure you'll love it. Mexico is a great place to live. If you have any questions or need any help with anything feel free to ask.