Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Monday, April 14, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Learning Spanish

It's amazing how quickly one can pick up a language when immersed in it, especially when the natives stick to their own tongue and don't speak English. Unlike resort areas in Mexico, where people will quickly revert to English when they see it's your language, in Pana it's pretty much all Spanish. Stores, restaurants, tourist spots-- places where you'd figure the workers would know a little English-- nope. It's Spanish or nothing.

This has been fun for me because I took quite a bit of Spanish in school and appreciate the opportunity to be forced into using it. Not so for my husband. He says, "I could never figure out how to conjugate English verbs, how can I hope to remember the Spanish ones?"

But he keeps at it, we both do. Ever heard of duolingo.com? It's a free site that takes you through a series of lessons, from beginner to proficiency. You just choose the language and get started. Of course, you can't be afraid to open your mouth and practice, even when something comes out to make the store clerk grin.

Have you ever visited a country without knowing the language? How did you manage?

21 comments:

  1. Oh yes - I arrived in Cuba with almost no Spanish, and goodness what a learning curve! I got by - with a phrase book and miming and a lot of laughter. But I realise it really isn't good enough - given how much I travel I am now determined to master a second language.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jo, And which one will it be? Spanish or French?

      Delete
  2. Hi Karen - that's great that you're both getting stuck in - obviously the most sensible thing to do seeing as you're living there .. enjoy and you will so much once you've mainly mastered it ..

    With lots of smiles and pointy fingers .. or with luck finding someone who speaks English, or not getting lost - so I never had to open my mouth!

    Cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's the best way to learn. I lived in Japan when I was young and could speak fluent Japanese. Welsh is one language I don't think I could ever master though.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We visited Mexico City last October. My husband knows a little Spanish and I know none. We got through it and found people there to be over-the-top friendly and accommodating. We dream of moving to Mexico and feel we should put some Spanish lessons under our belt. Your post is encouraging.

    ReplyDelete
  5. In Ireland most everyone speaks English well , but in the smaller west coast villages there are still the Gaeltacht regions where mainly the Irish language is spoken. It is extremely guttural, lots of consonants and for some reason I always choose to visit that area most often. I'll be taking a semester of Irish language soon. Can't wait. Will check out duolingo.com soon.

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's fun to learn a different language when forced to. Yes, I can speak some German but no Italian, Czech or French (took French in school but totally hopeless), but I would have a little phrase book and learn the important lingo-Washroom, food, thank you's etc... and I found when you try most are happy you have and then you start playing charades-hahahaha. My 1st husband was trying to learn German sayings when we were in Austria. There is a saying in the Steiermark area where people say "Gruess Gott" -it literally meaning Greetings to God but many use this as we say Hello. Well my husband said Grott Goose-I laughed so hard. He also goofed up when ordering coffee. He wanted to say Kann Ich ....so and so on That means Can I. he said Konig Ich-which means King I-hahahahaha

    ReplyDelete
  7. Duolingo is a really awesome app. Unfortunately, not being immersed in the language day in and day out, it actually takes effort from me to keep at learning languages. Kudos to you for living somewhere you don't speak the language and trying to learn it; that's not the easiest thing to do. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have never visited where I could not manage, albeit marginally, with English. But I still recall my first month in France, back in the days when they pretended not to understand anything but French (and only perfectly pronounced French) feeling very lost. Crippled, actually.
    Luckily I was ten, and learned quickly.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Duolingo does help get you a good start! But I agree, there's nothing like *having* to use what you know.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My husband and I worked in Nicaragua for one week each summer for three years. A lot of my high school Spanish came back to me, but even my husband, who knew no Spanish, picked up and retained a lot of words. It's amazing how fast it happens.
    Amanda at His and Her Hobbies

    ReplyDelete
  11. I can imagine that forces you to learn quickly. I have been trying to learn some Tagalog (Filipino) for years now, but have not managed so well. I think part of my problem is that when I'm in the metro Manila area most people will switch to English when they see me. In fact, a lot people there will switch to speaking English to each other in front of English speakers as a courtesy. I've finally gotten my closest friends there to be comfortable speaking Tagalog to each other in front of me. At least I can pick up some words from listening. :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. I live is Southern California so I really should know Spanish. Technically I took it in high school but I remember nada. Lately though I've been working in a kitchen where most of the other employees switch back and forth from English to Spanish within a conversation so duolingo.com might be something I will check out. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I agree that you can pick up a language so fast when you're immersed in that culture. I went on an exchange to France when I was about 16, and just during those 10 days I picked up so much and felt so much more confident with the language. Although most people there could speak English, we tried to speak French as much as possible and it really paid off. I've never done any Spanish before and later this year I'm going on honeymoon to Tenerife. I'm sure most people will speak English there though, so it shouldn't be a problem. I'll take a phrase book anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I love the challenge of being in a place where I don't speak the language. Before I went to Italy, I memorized basic words and phrases I thought I'd need, such as Where's the bathroom? I carried a phrase book with me, but got frustrated with it a lot. Fortunately, the people I'd be conversing with were patient. Often I spoke in English,throwing in a word or two of Spanish or Italian and that worked somehow.
    The View from the Top of the Ladder

    ReplyDelete
  15. Learning a language through immersion sounds both exciting and a little scary at the same time. I must admit, my brief visit to Mexico was a touristic stop so English-speakers were available.

    ReplyDelete
  16. My daughter is going to Morocco in the fall to immerse herself in the language. Arabic is so difficult she really needs it.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I thought I knew French until I went to Quebec. What we learned in school was not equivalent...pointing to signs worked as I could read them, but speaking or understanding oral French didn't work as well.
    Donna Smith
    The A-to-Z Challenge
    http://mainelywrite.blogspot.com
    Mainely Write

    ReplyDelete
  18. I studied Spanish in college, and it is difficult to learn a new language. I spent a summer in Spain years ago, and a lot of the Spaniards said they liked that I was trying to speak their language, even though I didn't do it very well. But I still spoke more Spanish that summer than I did in all the classes I took combined. I think the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the culture where it's spoken, so I bet you'll become fluent in Spanish eventually.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Because you must, you will. I have been told that English is one of the most difficult to learn. Since you got that mastered by the time you were 3 or 4, Spanish will be a breeze.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Starting over, Haha, great way to look at it! I'll tell that to my husband as he could use a confidence builder. He really struggles with it, not having had any Spanish at all in school.

      Delete