Wednesday, March 2, 2011


     Since mid-October I’ve been learning Spanish, mostly while I drive my car. I’m using the Pimsleur Method, of which I highly approve. I can now speak Spanish far better than I could after taking three quarters at Emory.

     I can speak, but not read or write it very well. That’ll come later. They don’t want me doing that yet.

     The Pimsleur Method is based on the recognition that most people on the planet who’ve learned a language, i.e., children, learn to speak it pretty dang well before they can read anything. They learn by speaking and hearing, a little bit at a time, and figure out on their own verb tenses and conjugations.

     I spend about 45 minutes a day speaking and hearing Spanish. What I’ve learned is mostly tourista Spanish. We talk about making reservations, ordering food, make small talk about the weather and people’s families.

     After finishing the first 86 of 120 lessons, I can now order Mexican food and converse with my servers in Spanish about it. I can make small talk with lovely senoritas at the bar. That goes something like this:

     Me: Vienes aqui con frequencia?* (Do you come here often)

     And the senorita generally says something which in context sounds something like, “I think you’re a creepy old man.” (There seems to be intercultural consensus on this point.)

     But I’m also learning basic conversational structure and a reasonably good ability to be understood that I think will serve me well in a variety of situations.

     Let’s say I’m in Mexico and am confronted after dinner by a bandito in a dark alley who says, “Hey gringo, I want your lunch money muthafucka.”

    Now, if the guy looks stoned, I might take this tack: “Lo siento, no hablo ingles. Entiendo “muthafucka,” pero que quere decir “lunch money” in espanol?” (I’m sorry. I don’t speak Spanish. I understand “muthafucka,” but what does “lunch money” mean in Spanish?). And then, while he’s trying to parse that out (“Quere decir su dinero para comprar su almuerzo”), I run away.

     But let’s say he doesn’t appear likely to fall for that one, then I go with the in-your-face assault. I say, “Acabo de terminar comer mi madre,” which I believe to mean, “I just finished eating my mother.”

     To which he might reply, “Lo siento, no es el hombre pense. Quizas prodria comprar le una cervesa.” (I'm sorry, you are not the man I thought. Maybe I could buy you a beer)

     But let’s say he presses the issue, that he’s one of those desperate hombres about whom one hears so much, and he says, “No creo que a comido su madre.” (I don’t believe that you have eaten your mother)

     I then say, “Mide! Mide aqui entre mis dientes. Hay mi madre.” (Look! Look here between my teeth. There’s my mother)

     At this point he’s looking worried, unable to tell your common carne from mama meat, and I press the advantage.

     “Quere que debo comer su madre. No hace me hacer lo. Donde esta su madre? Creo que va a sere muy deliciosa.” (Do you want that I should eat your mother? Don’t make me do it. Where is your mother? I think she’s going to be very tasty)

     But now he’s impressed that I’ve remembered to use “deliciosa” instead of “delicioso” since I’m still referring to his mother, a feminine noun, and he says. “Por favor senor, podria ayudar me con mi ingles?” (Please sir, could you help me with my English)

     “Compra mi muchas cervesas, entonses podemos hablar.” (You buy me many beers, then we can talk)

     *A note on spelling. No lo sais. I’m just making my best guess from the way it sounds.

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