Learning Spanish – Part 8 – First Encounters in Mexico
In this article, I want to talk about what happened to me during my early attempts to communicate in Spanish with the native Spanish-speaking peoples of Central America. After spending six weeks plowing through an essential Spanish textbook and learning as much Spanish vocabulary as my memory would permit, I thought I was ready to take on the Spanish language for real!!
I started my trip through the Americas in the… I spent some time in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego before heading south to the Mexican border en route to Tirajana. However, I didn’t converse with anybody in Spanish in theU.S.S learned a lot about this region’s Spanish conquest before the English took over!
You might be wondering what that has to do with learning Spanish! The point is that learning Spanish shouldn’t just be about learning how to communicate in Spanish. One of the best ways to keep yourself enthused about your studies is to immerse yourself in all things Spanish. Learning about Spanish history, for example, and in my particular case, about the Spanish conquest of the Americas, is an excellent way of adding substance. It validates and gives purpose and added reason to why you are learning the Spanish language in the first place.
This might all sound a bit deep, but the truth is that cultural immersion can help you understand certain things about the Spanish language that you might not be able to gain from a textbook alone! Plus, if you are anything like me, you’ll love learning about Spanish history and the conquest of the Americas.
Before I went to U.S. U., I didn’t realize just how much of the Americas the Spanish were originally in control of. Their rule extended the entire Pacific coast from Southern Argentina right the way up to modern-day Alaska. I also didn’t realize that the names of sU.S.e US cities are Spanish! San Francisco (Saint Francis), Los Angeles (The Angles).
The further south you get inU.S.e U., S the more Spanish influence there is. In FloridaL.A.d L.A, Spanish place names are common, and some road signs are even translated into Spanish.
So, I caught a bus south from L with a little Pre-Columbian history under my belt and my self-study crash course in Spanish. A direct to the Mexican town of Tijuana just over oveU.S.hethe U.S / Mexican border. I didn’t get much chance to test my Spanish out on anyone. The taxi drivers, the owner of the hostel I stayed at, and the bar staff at all the bars I went to all seemed to want to talk to me in English! This wasn’t that surprising, however! Tijuana is a bit of a party town for young North Americans looking for a good weekend!
I tried to speak a little Spanish to the locals but couldn’t string sentences together quickly enough. Most people could see I was struggling and decided to make it easy for the ‘poor gringo’ by speaking to me in English! It wasn’t until I decided to head south again further into Baja de California that I got my first real opportunity to speak.
I went to a local bus company to book a bus to the next town south, called Ensenada. This time I was on my own; nobody spoke English. I then attempted to explain to the lovely young Mexican girl that attended me that I wanted to catch a bus to the next town south. The only thing was I didn’t know how to say it correctly. I didn’t know the word for ‘catch’ or ‘get on’ and had forgotten essential words like ‘to go and ‘ticket.’ All I kept yelling out was, ‘Ummm…..bus…..Ummm…bus….. Ensenada!’ I must have looked like a bumbling fool, and I certainly felt like one!
Of course, the lovely young Mexican girl understood that I wanted to go to Ensenada by bus, even from my mumblings, but the next challenge was figuring out the bus timetable and how much it would cost me. If this wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t understand a word of what the Mexican girl was saying to me in Spanish! In the end, the Mexican girl had to write numbers down on paper (thank god numbers are the same in English and Spanish, I thought!) After some time, which seemed like forever, I eventually paid for my pesos and reserved a seat on the next bus in a few hours!
Admittedly, I had just arrived in the Spanish-speaking world and hadn’t studied much, so I probably shouldn’t have expected much! Later I was told that the Mexican accent could be one of the hardest in Latin America to understand. But, the thing was, I was pretty annoyed and shocked at just how useless I was! So from that day onwards, I promised myself that I would find a little time each day during the rest of my travels (not difficult as a backpacker) to improve my Spanish skills. I knew I had a long way to go, but I was determined to do it!