By Osmosis…

I have been reading lots of others’ blogs these past few weeks and have particularly enjoyed Yucatango. The posts are fairly varied but lately have dealt a fair bit with politeness in Yucatan and the nuances of the Spanish language.

It seems curious to me that many international residents say they don’t want to learn Spanish. I think maybe their reticence derives from flashbacks they have of high school or freshman college languages classes. I can’t say I blame them for not wanting to subject themselves to that kind of torture ever again!

Mind you the language institutes I have seen here are not the Draconian dungeons of our youth. They’re bright and sunny and the teachers, usually young and hip…

Learning the basics of the language by living in the country is a totally different pony ride. You do NOT have to sit at an uncomfortable desk and listen to the teacher drone on and on. You can learn by immersion… and it can be quite an adventure!

For example if you do some of your shopping locally, the vendors will teach you the Spanish names of every fruit, vegetable, cut of meat, and cleaning liquid… They also explain the numbers and a host of the neighborhood colloquialisms.

And how do you get these maestros to start the tutoring? All you need to do is smile at them and buy something. If Lesson One doesn’t start on the spot, it will probably get going on your second visit.

The first word I learned in Spanish was: esquina. I had just arrived in Peru, and had boarded the colectivo (a car or van that carries several passengers along a pre-established route… like a bus does)

Anyway… I noticed that people would intermittently call out “Esquina,” the vehicle would stop and out they’d get.

“Aha!” thought I, “Esquina must mean: I want to get off.” Not many minutes later I found out that the word actually means: corner. Although I didn’t get the literal translation right, I did correctly deduce the meaning.

The other good news is that if you’ve been here a while, you’ve probably learned more Spanish than you think you have. It happens by osmosis. I think…

Some new residents are anxious about looking foolish. In Yucatan, you will look a little that way no matter what you do or don’t do. There is a complex social etiquette that most of us read wrong every day. But the good news is that Yucatecans will give you an A for effort.

Go with the flow… it is one of the most liberating rewards of living in this charmed corner of the world.

Photos by Carlos



Filed under Family and Friends, Vida Latina

10 responses to “By Osmosis…

  1. Alas, the required foreign language I failed to learn was French, which if I speak it at all, is with an atrocious Gringo-Russian accent… my inability to wrap my tongue around the French vowel sounds got me sent to tutorials with the dreaded Madame G… a White Russian lady. more French than the French… in other words, if you couldn’t speak proper French, you were a lower form of life.

    I think that kind of experience may be what holds people back… we’re likely to look down on those who can’t speak properly, and assume that others will do unto us as we did unto them. Oh well, I’m told I speak bad Chilango, but me defiendo. ¡Practica, practica, practica!

    • My point exactly! But we shouldn’t be afraid here… the Yucatecans and really all Mexicans are very generous with us and our mistakes… They are pleased if we at least try to speak Spanish

  2. Joanna, you sure are correct about the language study approaches we suffered through in
    our youth.

    Let me share one of my personal favorites –a class for the computer. It’s called BUENO ENTONCES. It’s not free, but it sure is FUN. Even in repetition, I find that I’m learning things, and getting in a good laugh as well.

    There are several You Tube presentations about this program. I’m hoping that some day they come up with a Mexican-Spanish version, for the present one is basically Argentine in orientation (with some references to other styles of Spanish.) But for someone who already has a basic understanding of the Mexican pronunciation, it’s pretty easy to filter out the different pronunciations. Furthermore, even if someone had ONLY that basic understanding, and if they learned little new in the lessons, it’s worth the effort for simply the humor–youthful, flirtatious, sexy at times, and “a laugh a day….!”

    Here’s a link:

  3. Osmosis does help, Joanna; but it’s not enough. I’ve been here for many years, and am still finding Spanish a major difficulty. I might finish a more complete answer to your interesting post, but I’m afraid it would be the length of a college dissertation, so not likely.

  4. Reminded me of my high school Spanish teacher – Mrs Most. A magical wisp of a woman probably almost 60 then and that was in the 1950’s. I visited their farm in Yakima Wash a number of times and thinking back it reminded me of Mexico. She used to wear Mexican-ish embroidered skirts and blouses to class of a kind I don’t see here now. Good memories

    Not so good memories of college Spanish … and then back to good memories of Spanish schools I’ve been to in Mexico.

    • My high school Spanish never happened; I took French from Irish nuns… what a linguistic lagoon that was! Osmosis was my way, but it isn’t for everyone of course

  5. norm

    The idea that it just seeps in has some merit. I tend to get the drift of what people are saying but then maybe it’s wishful thinking…

    • Yes, it does seep in and when quite a bit has done so, it’s helpful to find someone who can help straighten it out… When that happens, you’ll be really surprised at how much you’ve picked up or learned “by osmosis”

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