I’ve been to Mexico before. I loved it. That’s probably not a big surprise, ’cause here I am starting my adventure in Mexico. So, let’s move on.
The main thing I wanted to do on coming here was to learn Spanish. Well, okay, I also really wanted to just bake myself on the beach in perfect, warm, sunny weather. And, sure, I was really craving going to many different taco joints to sample the pastor, the chorizo, the pescado. Oh, and to have guacamole with every meal. And sure, there was the excellent night life here, which I haven’t gotten around to posting about. Except about tequila.
But I’m getting off track! So -ONE- of the things I really wanted to do, was learn Spanish. I always hated feeling like an ignorant American, too arrogant to bother learning the language of the country I’m visiting. Also, I’ve always wanted to be at least bi-lingual; you have so much more capability to talk to people all over the world. I took some French in high school, but never got serious enough to actually retain anything useful.
So: here’s my opportunity I thought. I will LIVE in the country for an extended period. I will take an immersion class as my primary job while there. 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. I’ll be fluent in no time! Then I’ll make fast friends with the locals, write a novel en Española, and become an international sensation. Perfecto! And on my second month I’ll be all ready for Spain.
So, I’m a few days in already. Let’s recap reality, shall we?
First off, the school I’m attending is called Solexico and it is pretty awesome. Not your normal school. For example, this is my classroom where four of us plus the teacher sit and talk:
So, yeah; not your common, everyday school environment. It’s pretty much as they advertise: “Learn Spanish in paradise.” In breaks between lessons you hang out in hammocks, play a little volleyball, or get a freshly made quesadilla from the open-air “cafeteria”. Fluorescent lighting? Rigid teachers? Drab hallways? Torturous desk-chair thingies to sit in while you get lectured at? Not here! This is how learning should always be.
However! There is trouble in Paradise. Here’s how it works: you pay for school on a weekly basis and go for as many weeks as you’d like. When you start, they will give you a test (both written and spoken) which determines what level of class you go to. For me, this was my first lesson in humility.
The written test basically looked like someone had thrown a bunch of characters on sheets with words that all ended in “o” or “a”, and sentences that had upside-down question marks at the beginnings. I filled in a few answers: “le”, “los”, “las”, and “je ne sais pas” and then gave up. I basically could have gotten a better score by writing “Ich no hable ton moon-language” on the papers and then folded it into a paper airplane and shot it at the garbage (basura).
The spoken exam was a lesson in real-time humiliation. I’m transcribing from memory here, and I may have gotten some of the spelling wrong:
Teacher (Maestro, en espanol): “Buenos dias, come esta?”
Me (confidently): “Bien, muy bien”
Maestro: “garble frob bamble stoop?”
Me (a bit shaken): “Er… no comprendo?”
Maestro: “garble frob bamble EL stoop?”
Me (sweat glands engaged): “Er… si?”
Maestro: “Oh, si, tu garble frob bamble zoop moodle twasten sow!”
Me (panic sets in: what have I done? This must be a class for natives!) “er…”
Maestro: “tu moobleso bando doa bleangliano?”
At this point I decide silence is the best course of action and simply smile and shake my head, trying to convey how sorry I was for wasting his time. In the back of my mind I wonder how I can communicate my request for a refund. El refundo? Por favor?
He lets me off the hook and explains in perfect English that I’ll be starting with “Lesson one” and shows me to my class. I am relieved and settle into the warm little hut and await the rest of my classmates.
Long story short: there were three people who started the same day as me, but those two proved to be some kind of prodigies and were placed in higher classes. So I’m in the beginner class, but the 3 others folks in it with me have already had one week under their belt. If there would have been more beginners like me, they would probably have spun up another intro class, but with just one of me, they deemed it wise to put me in the already-running class, assuming I could catch up on one week. What’s 25 hours of instruction between friends?
Come to find out, quite a lot. One of the first words I learn is “escuchar” which roughly translates to “shut your foreigner mouth and just listen for once while the people who already know a thing or two talk. You will absorb our intelligence via osmosis through your ears. Trust me.”
I may have taken liberties with that definition.
So, it’s been a few days of me doing some intensive “escuchar-ing” and attempting to read up on things I’m missing when I can. I haven’t taken this many notes by hand since I was in… well, no; I was going to say high school, but I was a terrible student then. So, we’ll just say “never”.
To be perfectly fair: my teachers (Maestros) are wonderful. The morning teacher, Monica, speaks in only Spanish. She will not use any English to help you along, so you are forced to think and struggle and guess and be wrong and eventually learn. The afternoon teacher, Leon, teaches us conversational Spanish and intersperses his discussions with details about culture, etiquette and more. The other students, while all powerfully younger than I, are quite willing to take the old man under their wing and give him a bit of help.
I can’t recommend this enough: if you ever want to learn a language, put yourself in a situation where you have no choice. My head is swimming each day, and as I review what I’ve written each day, I’m surprised that I can start forming useful sentences already. Soon I get out of the hotel that the Elder and I are staying at, and will go live with a Mexican family where I will have absolutely no lifeline for English. Wish me luck.