Learning the Spanish Language
By: Suzanne Marie Bandick

Before we arrived in Mexico, in the glory days when you don’t really know anything, I thought, “No problem, I will be fluent in Spanish in a year.” We arrived and I diligently got a private tutor for all the family, a marvelous lady who was fluent in Spanish and English. I thought I was doing quite well until my kids left me in the dust. I was still stuck on learning the first ten present tense verbs and they already knew almost all 501 and were already on past tense, future tense and tenses I was not even aware of.

“No,” my tutor said patiently, “you have now just called your kid’s father a potato. The accent is different between the two words. Also, I am sure you meant that dress was expensive, not that it was a car. The difference is in how you roll the r’s.”

Who would have known there were all these rules? I don’t even know what a present participle is in English; don’t even start with me on present subjective in Spanish.

Before I knew it a year was up. We were moving to the other coast of Mexico and I really did not feel that much further ahead. When do I use the verb ser and when do I use the verb estar? They are almost the same, but they are not, you know. It was not my tutor’s fault; she tried hard to make me study. Work and life just kept getting in the way. She said, “Don’t forget to keep studying” as we pulled away. Right! I’ll continue, I promise.

It was actually somewhat humorous and somewhat alarming as we drove across Mexico to our new home. People often did not understand all the Spanish we knew anymore. What in the world? We worked so hard to learn this much! It had worked fine in Puerto Vallarta, but now apparently the intonation - the very way one pronounced some of the words - was actually changing. Maybe it was okay I had not learned so much Spanish after all.

Once we were moved, well, I had to unpack, right? Finding a new tutor did not happen for quite awhile; so many people spoke English! I got by on my Spanish but often I felt like the stereotypical old immigrant woman who had to have her children translate for her.

The children became fluent very quickly, especially our son, who was eight when we originally moved. I think it was his desire to make friends, meet girls and, of course, eat. Naturally, he learned all the slight slang that kids use. You might now think he is a local from the way he talks. He switches back and forth very easily from both languages. He is 14 now, so I should maybe say he mumbles well in both languages.

Learn Spanish before you get here, or learn Spanish once you are here? I figure it is probably worth it to do both. It is good to arrive here with at least a foundation of the language, and the people appreciate so much your trying to speak Spanish. The one thing to remember is, once you start using it, use it or you will lose it! Trust me, I know that one well. Also, don’t be surprised if your kids leave you in the dust! Cough, cough.

I do still work on my Spanish and it gets a little better every day. Yes, I finally have a tutor again. Yes, I could go to one of the many language schools here but that might take the frustration out of it and make life too simple again. Then I would have to move to yet another country to learn a totally new language. I don’t think I am ready for that!