Wednesday, June 7, 2017

10 Reasons I Can't Learn Spanish While Living in México

After Almost Two Years, I'm Still Struggling!

Learning Spanish Feels Like Getting this Burro to Move!

     We've lived in México for almost two years now and I'm still struggling to put a full sentence together in Spanish! It's like trying to get the stubborn burro to move in the bronze sculpture show above, 'Andale Bernardo' in Puerto Vallarta's Lazaro Cardenas Park. That burro is never going to move, no matter how hard the boys and dog push and pull! Will I never speak Spanish fluently? What is my excuse for not being able to carry on even a simple conversation yet?
     I don't think I'm alone in this struggle to learn a second language. Quite a few other people from the United States and Canada tell me they also have trouble learning the native language here in México. Some are expats who live here year around. Many live in México for the winter six months and return to their home north of the border for the summer. That's plenty of time to grasp a significant number of Spanish words and phrases! 
     To be honest, I know lots of names of things. I can order my meals and drinks in restaurants, with help from a menu written in Spanish, of course. I can understand numbers when they are spoken (most of the time) and I know the Mexican currency well enough to handle paying for my meal or groceries. I can even ask where to find items including cuts of meat, vegetables and fruit, queso (cheese), leche (milk), totopos (corn chips) and most other things in the grocery store or pharmacy. Luckily, much of the Spanish language is spoken with fewer words than English. I have mastered the sentence, "Do you have granola?"--"Tiene granola?" That one is easy! Even I can handle two word sentences at the grocery store!

Limones, Pepinos, Tomates, Papas, Cebollas, Zanahorias, I've Got Those!

But, my Spanish is very poor and not getting better. I have "10 Excuses for Not Learning to Speak Spanish Fluently" after living here for two years. I use one or two of these whenever the situation calls for it:
Cooling Off at the Beach in Puerto Vallarta
1. It's Too Hot to Learn Anything! This excuse only works from about June 1 through October 31, but I used it to drop out of Spanish class last June. I had stuck it out for two months though, attending a one-hour class twice a week, and I have the notebook and hundreds of flashcards to show for it! But, June, July, and August are pretty hot in Mexico. Cooling off at the beach usually wins over practicing Spanish this time of year!
Fine Restaurants or Taco Stands, Waiters Speak English to Us!

2. Most of the Waiters at the Restaurants Speak English so I Don't Need to Learn Spanish! This is one of the quirkiest things I've observed in México. When we speak to the waiters in restaurants, we greet them in Spanish and we order in Spanish, intending to practice the local language. But, whether we are in a fine restaurant or at a taco stand, they reply to us in English in almost every case. So, we carry on a completely bilingual conversation, with us practicing our Spanish and the Mexican waiter practicing his or her English. Sometimes I think, why bother to learn Spanish? A wise Spanish teacher once taught me to say, "Quiero hablar Espanol; me ayudas?" (I want to speak Spanish; will you help me?) I have been lazy about saying this to waiters, but they are happy to help me with words or sentences, so it's time for me to be more persistent about asking for help.
Fine Restaurants or Taco Stands--Waiters Speak English To Us!

3. It's Too Hard! I Just Want to Speak English. It is hard to learn Spanish! Conjugating verbs, present tense, past tense, slang, Mexican Spanish variations... There were times during Spanish class last year when I would "hit the wall" after just 30 minutes of lessons. The instructor would kindly excuse me from speaking in Spanish and let me finish the class by just listening to the other students speak while I took notes. I think I've progressed to the vocabulary level of a 2 1/2-year-old child. The neighbor kids speak to me at times when I'm outside watering the plants or walking through the barrio (Mexican neighborhood). One day three of them gathered around me and asked where Jon was. I thought for a minute, but couldn't find the words, so I used hand gestures, two hands together next to my ear with my head tipped, to indicate he had gone to sleep. The four-year-old said "dormir?" I smiled and replied, "Si, dormir!" I was excited that I knew that word--it means "to sleep"! Maybe if I try harder and keep talking to the neighbor kids, I can improve my Spanish to the speaking level of a 3-year-old by the end of the year.
These Kids' Dad Asked Me to "Share" a Photo of Their "Zebra-Donkey"

4. Facebook has a Translation Button so I can Read my Mexican Friends' Posts. That is a pretty humble excuse, I admit. But, look how lazy we can be with that little translation feature. I am going to commit to trying to read the Spanish sentences from now on, before I click "See Translation"!

5. I'm Too Old to Learn Another Language! Well, I'm no longer "Before the Age of 59", or even before the age of 60. I still feel young, but learning new things does seem much more challenging now than during my school-years. Why didn't I take Spanish classes in high school rather than the two years of German I took? I would have a much better grammatical basis to build upon while learning to speak Spanish here in Mexico. At times, I believe that old saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks!" But, maybe I should focus on that other saying, "You're only as old as you feel" and start practicing as though I'm in high school language class again, only it's Spanish this time!
Feeling Young Next to La Catrina--I'm Only As Old As I Feel!

6. I don't want to make a mistake and sound ignorant when I say the wrong word. I'm not confident enough. When I go to the beauty salon to have my hair cut and colored, I speak mostly in English to the hairdresser, Marta, and she speaks in Spanish to me, trying to teach me, I believe, because she does speak English at times. We both understand each other with enough hand gestures. Jon speaks Spanish to Marta and I envy his ability to carry on a conversation with her. One day, Marta said to Jon, in English so that I would understand her, "I think Terry is shy. She doesn't want to speak Spanish." I nodded, thinking that was a very tactful way to put it. I answered her in English, of course, "Yes, because I am afraid I will say the wrong words." I was thinking, "...and I am afraid I will sound ignorant." Marta just nodded, smiled politely, and continued to speak Spanish to me, helping me learn a few words each month when I have my hair appointment. 
Vicki Points and Says "El Cangrejo!" and Laughs
7. I can use Spanishdict.com to write my instructions for our housekeeper and my Spanish posts on Facebook. Do I really need to learn to speak it? I like it when our housekeeper, Vicki, speaks Spanish to me, complimenting my flowers and showing me that Bella has "el cangrejo"--a crab cornered in the yard. Jon helps me by translating since he knows more Spanish than I do, learned when he was a child in Ecuador. I know how to say "Gracias" for her information.  Vicki teaches me a few words each week while she cleans our house. I know how to answer her when she asks where to start cleaning, either arriba (upstairs, literally above) or abajo (downstairs, literally below). I even understand when she tells me "necesita una escoba nueva(you need a new broom) or asks me "¿Dónde está la escalera?" (where is the ladder?) But I can't come up with a sentence to ask her if she can dust the cobwebs, even though she has tried to teach me multiple times. So I use www.Spanishdict.com to find out the translation. It even has a Speaker Button next to "Translated by Microsoft" that speaks the phrase so I can hear it and practice saying it over and over. So then I ask Vicki, stumbling a little over the words, "¿Puede limpiar las telarañas?" She smiles and says, “Sí, puedo limpiar las telarañas.” Maybe I'll learn a few sentences if I keep practicing and Vicki continues to patiently help me each week.
What Would I do Without the SpanishDict.com Translation Website?

8. I'm Too Busy! I teach Zumba class Monday and Wednesday mornings each week and after that I am too tired! Jon and I volunteer in various events including beach and riverbed clean-up days, SayulitAnimals Dog and Cat Spay and Neuter Clinics, and at the ProSayulita Fiesta. When I'm not writing my books and blogs, I'm gardening, sweeping the street in front of our casita, cooking, washing dishes, and doing everyday chores. Then, it's time to take a walk or do something else that's fun. Life may be simpler here in México, but we are always busy!
Teaching Zumba each Monday and Wednesday Morning Keeps Me Busy!
9. It's Too Expensive to Take Spanish Classes! I did find that after two months of taking Spanish Classes two days each week, it was really cutting into my budget. I had also purchased one Spanish workbook and could foresee needing additional books--more expense. So I told the Spanish instructor that I needed a break from classes and took my Spanish workbook and flashcards home with the full intention to keep practicing every day. When I got bored with my flashcards, I purchased an online Spanish class called "Shortcut to Spanish" for only $39.95. It seems pretty easy to use, but the key is you have to use it. I have used it maybe a total of 10 hours, and that is definitely not enough. Then we bought a 10 CD Spanish lesson that we planned to listen to while we drive the motorhome. We haven't made it past CD #1. It is expensive to keep investing in all these Spanish lessons and still not learn enough Spanish to be fluent. I guess there is more to it than just spending the money! 
Since I Spent the Money on "Shortcut to Spanish", Maybe I Should Use It!


10. I would rather go boogie-boarding, Stand-Up Paddleboarding, golfing, gardening, teach Zumba, anything but practice Spanish! Let's go Stand-Up Paddleboarding after I practice a half-hour of Spanish!
Stand-Up Paddleboarding is More Fun than Practicing Spanish!

     Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that I have used all ten of these excuses for not learning Spanish. I'll bet some of my readers have used at least a few of these excuses, too. Now that I've written my pathetic excuses and publicized them, I see how ridiculous they sound. I am committing to practicing Spanish at least 5 hours each week, and not just when we are dining out in a restaurant! At the end of each day, I know that I have spoken Spanish multiple times throughout the day, greeting people I pass on the street, talking to the cashier at the mini-supermarket, introducing myself to a Spanish-speaking Zumba student in my class, and during other brief encounters as I walk through town. I do speak Spanish. I just need to work harder to learn to speak more, and I will. No more excuses!
At the End of the Day, I Realize that I DO Speak Spanish
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20 comments:

  1. Enjoyed this article Terry

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    1. Thank you very much for reading it, enjoying it, and commenting! I know it was a little silly, but it seems by the comments I have received about this article, that I am not alone in this struggle to learn Spanish. It is a challenge for those of us who have moved to a Latin American country later in life. But the Mexican people are so kind about helping us learn, never wanting to hurt our pride. If I could only lose my fear of sounding silly!

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    2. I hear you Terry, Whenever I do use spanish, I always look at the person, and say in English, "Did you understand me?"

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    3. That's a good idea. I have never thought to try that. If they say yes, though, I would still wonder if they really did understand me, unless they repeated it back to me in English. How does it work for you?
      Terry

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    4. I spent two months in Costa Rica a few years ago - with the sole purpose of learning Spanish. I did ok until I hooked up with the other Gringos - then it devolved into beer and rock and roll :)

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    5. Hi Wombatone,
      I see that happening! Same thing happened to us when we lived in Ecuador. Trying to live a more mellow life now in Mexico. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog article.
      Terry

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  2. I have all those excuses! I do speak Spanish, but not well and not enough that I can actually hold a conversation. Like you I know lots of words, but I don't know how to put them into phrases. I also struggle with hearing Spanish. So I can ask "como estas?" But if they answer with anything other than "bien" I'm screwed! I have tried practicing with Spanish speakers but if they don't speak English we get to a point where I am stuck for a phrase and can no longer continue the conversation and it's frustrating for both of us...
    I've decided to watch a movie every day, one day English with Spanish subtitles and the other Spanish with English subtitles.

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    1. Thank you, Babylady, for reading my story and for your comment! It helps me to know that I am not the only one struggling to learn Spanish. Your idea of watching movies with subtitles is a very good one. We always watch English with Spanish subtitles but always fail to watch it again in Spanish with English subtitles. One Mexican who spoke English well told me he learned English by watching American soap operas and suggested I watch Mexican soap operas. But I can't handle all that drama!
      Terry

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  3. I feel your pain with learning Spanish, I am working hard to spend an hour everyday...its tough at this age, but I'm going to keep working at it

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    1. Great comment, Connie! I like your attitude. Better to keep working on it than to give up!
      Terry

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  4. I have a hard enough time with English.

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    1. I still do! Good one, Mike. Thank goodness for grammar-check and spell-check when I am writing. I need one of those when I am speaking--ha-ha! Thanks for reading and commenting.
      Terry

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  5. There are probably Mexicans who would love to practice their English with you. You can serve both the expat and Mexican community by hosting a weekly conversation group. 4 English speakers, 4 Spanish speakers: 45 minutes of conversation on a specific topic in English, 45 in Spanish. You correct and teach each other. There are convo topics for this on the internet.

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    1. Margaret,
      What a great idea! I'm a little shy, so it would be a challenge for me, but helpful, too. Have you done this before? I know some of my Mexican neighbors would be willing to participate. Or maybe, after my Zumba class on Monday and Wednesday, pastries and fruit provided. I'm going to work on this one. I like it a lot!
      Thanks for reading and commenting with your ideas.
      Terry

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  6. These are really really bad excuses. The only excuse is laziness. We all feel it. It's just easier to speak the language we already know. It's like trying to strengthen your dominant hand, it works for a little while and then you resort to using your dominant hand - it's just easier. In the end though, it's just laziness.

    As far as the comment above concerning committing to working on Spanish 1 hour per day... that's the same thing as committing to not speaking Spanish 23 hrs per day. That's like learning the metric system by switching your thermostat over to Celsius one hour per day.

    Jump in with both feet. You'd be shocked at how fast you can learn Spanish if that's all you're doing. People pick up language two ways - learning and acquiring. Learning is what we do in school. We learn verbs, nouns, conjugation, tenses and memorize them. Children acquire languages. Think about it, you were fluent at speaking English before you ever learned anything about it. Aquire Spanish. Surround yourself with it. Once you know what to say and when based on how it feels and the response you get then go learn it.

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    1. Yeah, Grant, so you are right. It's laziness, avoidance, procrastination, etc. But I came up with 10 excuses for my procrastination that I thought were pretty creative. The point is, I'm not the only one who avoids the hard work of learning a second language at the age of 60+ years-old. The final result of my writing these excuses--I realize how silly I sound and it motivated me to get in gear and practice my Spanish again. My hope is that it helps others become motivated also. I hope you saw some humor in my "really bad excuses". That was also the point, how silly we gringos sound when we say "I can't learn Spanish." I hope to move up to my 3-year-old speech level before year end, now that I'm working hard at it. Thanks for reading and commenting, Grant!
      Terry

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  7. Hey! I have used quite a few of these excuses but still persist. My spanish teacher says study 15 minutes EVERY day. ONLY 15. That makes it a brain exercise. I live north of you where not so much english is spoken so easier that way.

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    1. Hi Hearob,
      ONLY 15 minutes per day! That should be easy. I have no excuse for avoiding that! I did 15 minutes of my flash card yesterday. Today I'm practicing "Me llamo Terry; como te llamas?" I even have a fear of messing up that important, simple one, so I'm going to get that one completely embedded in this stubborn brain today! New sentence tomorrow. Good luck in your learning!
      Terry

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  8. Hi Dear,

    i Like Your Blog Very Much..I see Daily Your Blog ,is A Very Useful For me.

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mohit,
      Thank you for reading my blog. I'm glad you find it useful.
      Cheers,
      Terry

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