For years I have spoken beautiful, fluent Spanish. Spanish that can bring you to tears.
Or so I thought. I learned a teeny bit attending Edith Bowen Elementary, a laboratory grade school. Emphasis on teeny. I retained numbers, colors, and three or four body parts.
But I thought I spoke Spanish, so I never took it again in the upper grades. Wrongo. Incorrecto.
Fast forward and I have decided that an English/Spanish dictionary is all I need. I am now looking up every word I want, and using it to speak with native Spanish speakers in Los Angeles, where I lived for twenty years.
And here’s a bulletin about Hispanics: They’re too polite. They tell you your Spanish is great, and they understand you perfectly. Okay, maybe they understand you, but trust me: If you are speaking Spanish you taught yourself with a dictionary, you are speaking Cave Man Spanish. You are saying, “Me like this. I have happy. Here is you book. Me go now.”
But Latinos are basically nice. They don’t want to hurt your feelings, and unlike we English-speaking grammar fanatics, they have no need to correct you every time you open your mouth. So they smile and nod, and you are led down the path to linguistic hell. Okay, maybe not hell, but at least heck.
Fast forward some more. I am volunteering to help out in stores and all over the place, when someone speaks Spanish and a translator is needed. I am totally happy to lend my expertise.
And then a bit more fast forwarding and our son, Cassidy, returns from his LDS church mission to Argentina and says, “Mom, your Spanish is terrible. You don’t even use soy.”
Soy? As in edame? I certainly do use soy!
But now I suspect this is a critical Spanish word that has been missing from my repertoire (should have studied French), and sure enough, I look it up online and soy means I am. Imagine speaking English without that auxiliary verb!
And that’s not all. There are all kinds of conjunctions and phrases missing from my Spanish and I realize now that when dozens of Spanish speakers have asked me where I learned my Spanish they weren’t meaning, “Wow, I’m so impressed,” but “Where on earth did you learn such dreadful Spanish?”
Like I said, it can bring you to tears.
Fortunately, my books are available in English. Find them here and get started early on your Christmas shopping!