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Talking Tuesday: My Spanish is not very pretty these days


Three quick minutes to tell you why my Spanish is not too good nowadays, though my mother demanded that I speak it well. Actually, I think my English is better than Spanish… Written, anyway.

As always, you can download the whole thing by clicking here.

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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2 replies

  1. I know what you mean. Spanish was my first language, but I speak it as well as any three year old. Explanation: I was born in the late 1950s Panama Canal Zone and my mother was delighted to just hand me over to the maid (think “Mad Men” but with military uniforms and young wives being thrown into a kind of colonial life, my cousin sent me the letters my mother wrote to her mother during that time, it is really really weird). My parents even let her take me home to her village on some weekends, and come pick me up where I was very easy to see as la rubia playing on the ground with all the other kids.

    I went to English speaking school between 5th and 10th grades, where it was common to hear Spanglish in the hallways. Unlike the schools for English speakers in Mexico which required half of the instruction in Spanish (from a classmate who had lived there), we only had to have a daily Spanish class and three days a week class in Venezuelan social studies and history. In the Panama Canal Zone, no Spanish instruction was required (some Zonians were proud of their ignorance, you can see why the scar with institutionalized racism down the middle of its country rankled the Panamanians). It is to my shame I don’t speak Spanish very well.

    What I did learn is that the area south of the US Border down to Tierra del Fuego is huge, and there are lots of cultures. Most of which speak Spanish, or some variant. There are very different accents, in My Invented Country: A Memoir Isabel Allende remarks on the Caribbean accent she had to get used to in Venezuela while in exile.

    Plus there are different vocabularies. One of the Spanish teachers at my school in Caracas, Señora Mueller, wrote a small dictionary of English, Spain Spanish and Venezuelan Spanish vocabulary (there have been immigrants from Northern Europe for over two hundred years, look up Colonia Tovar). Since we presently live near a large university several of parents at my kids’ schools are graduate students from all over the world. One couple from Chile was happy to find a Spanish immersion preschool near the graduate housing so his four year old did not have to be plunged into an all English environment (I did put my younger son on the waiting list for it, but I never got a call). The dad was perplexed when his son was using different words for tying his shoe, but soon learned the staff were mostly from Mexico, so different vocabulary. When they returned to Chile, his soon to be third grade son spoke perfect English. (Another random anecdote: a kid on a son’s soccer team told everyone in his 3rd grade class he was an alien… turned out his Korean parents who were both in the law school were filling out IRS non-resident alien tax forms).

    Buena suerte (I had that wrong at first, I removed an “s”). You’ll pick it up since you are getting intensive practice. It is also a good reason to watch television. My first experience with Star Trek was in Spanish. Captain Kirk’s dramatic speeches were even more enhanced!

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