fiction

Custodial Spanish
sehablaespanol1

“Buenos dias. ¿Como esta?” [Good day. How are you?]

“Bien, bien. ¿Y usted?” [Well. And you?]

Learning Spanish from books and DVDs means that there are few opportunities to practice my language skills. Then one day it dawned on me that all the custodial staff spoke Spanish. Diego was from the Dominican Republic (I love the sound of ray-poob-li-ca). Maribel was originally from Peru (and her husband’s name was Segundo). Luis was from Mexico, and still trying to learn English.

Esta bueno, [It’s good] I thought. I can try out my Spanish on them and try to expand my vocabulary. Everyone says that you need to speak the language often in order to learn how to comprehend it as well. Hello and goodbye are all well and good, but the real test comes when I try to get beyond that. There’s the nice weather [buen tiempo] or it’s windy [esta viento]. And who doesn’t want to say it’s a beautiful day [esta un dia hermoso]. When the staff has their kids here it’s always nice to say that the boy [nino] is handsome [guapo] and the girl [nina] is pretty [bonita].

Early on in my custodial Spanish interaction program, I learned to say slow down, please [dispacio, por favor], or otherwise Maribel’s rapid-fire delivery left me in her wake. I also discovered that the more I spoke in Spanish, the more they sehablaespanol2assumed I knew. That could be a real problem, because I only understood every fifth word. Necesito [I need], mercado [market, donde [where], miercoles [Wednesday], cuiadado [careful], fresco [cool]. Recognizing single words is valuable, but putting it all together in a give and take conversation is the ultimate goal.

Here comes Luis, and the struggle begins.

Hola, Luis. ¿Como esta? [Hello Luis. How are you?]

Asi-asi. ¿Y usted? [So so. And you?]

Soñoliento. [Sleepy]

Now here’s where it all goes sideways.

Luis says: Usted tiene que conseguir más sueño [You have to get more sleep.].

All I got from that was: You, have, more and sleep.

So I reply: Si, más sueño.

Then Luis says: Acuéstese temprano [Go to sleep earlier].

To which I reply: ¿Que? [what?]

So Luis repeats very slowly: Acuéstese temprano.

I shake my head no, to show I don’t understand, and say again very slowly: ¿Que? [what?]

Luis says very slowly, while pretending to lay his head on a pillow: Sueño.

I say: Si.

Then Luis points at his watch: Más pronto.

To which I reply: Ay, si, si. Más pronto.

Luis beams with pride and says: Ahora usted entiende. [now you understand]

To which I reply: ¿Que?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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