For ten days in the beginning of this trip we walked one block to our Spanish school. We each had our own teacher and spent four hours a day ‘speaking’ Spanish in this small colonial city. It was exhausting, but I felt like I was actually learning the language.
The people in Antigua, Guatemala speak clearly and slowly. They would let me stumble through my request and then politely and kindly repeat it correctly. It was wonderful. I like to think they are aware of the many foreigners who come to learn Spanish or maybe that is just their way. I left my two-week Spanish school feeling confident about my skills and ready to travel through South America.
In the short time, I had learned a lot. While I cannot discuss politics – which might be a good thing — I can request a hotel room, order bus ticket or explain that my son does not want lettuce, tomato or mayonnaise on his hamburger. Even if everything I say is in the present tense.
Languages are a funny thing. When learning a new one or speaking English with a non-native, you quickly learn how one letter makes a huge difference. A salon is where you get your hair and nails done whereas a saloon is where you order a beer. In German, a purple violet is a blaue Primmel, but take care not to ask about a blaue Pimmel or you might offend their sexual prowess. In Spanish, huevos are eggs while Jueves is Thursday. I fear that I have ordered scrambled Thursdays on more than one occasion.
As we traveled throughout South America, people often asked if we ”Habla Espanol?” As soon as we say “un poquito“, they are off and running. Spanish has many speeds and often our pleas for “mas despacio, por favor” were unheeded. Especially as we traveled south.
Chile and Argentina seem to have a language all their own. Thankfully, Bryan and I are a good team when it comes to many things – conversing in Spanish being one. I was able to understand the gist of what people said while Bryan, a more confident speaker, could relay our request. Together, we figured it out.
As we enter Africa, the adventure builds. Africa has between 1,500 and 2,000 languages with the top two being Arabic and Swahili. Thank goodness for Google translate!