Nov 14, 2008, 10:19 AM
Post #36 of 60
Re: [MazDee] Differences among retirees by location
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I can't carry on a meaningful conversation with a Mexican friend unless it is in English. This pains me no end!
I sympathize with you and understand completely what you mean. I imagine many other MexConnectors do as well. I have tried to learn three foreign languages now. With all three I was able to live for extended periods of time, years, in countries where the languages are spoken: Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and now Mexico. I am an ABD (All-But-Dissertation) in German, meaning that I completed the course work for a PhD but did not get the degree because I did not write a dissertation. I lived in Germany and German-speaking Switzerland for two or three years, off and on, over time. I lived in Italy for five years. Now in Mexico going on two years. In every instance I worked hard on learning the language and in every instance my primary and most significant impediment was too much socializing with people who spoke English. There is no German who ever took a basic course of beginners English who is not completely convinced that his English is better than my German. Italians can't imagine why in the world you want to speak Italian when English is available to you. Most of the Italians I know are far more comfortable speaking their regional dialect and for them speaking standard Italian takes them back to the classroom and they find it boring. So it was not only a struggle to avoid other native speakers of English, but also like pulling teeth to get a German to speak German or an Italian to speak Italian, if they could speak any English at all.
After all that, I never reached a level of competence in German or Italian that would let me hold an in depth casual conversation with a native speaker on whatever topic might randomly occur. Why? Well, my German is bookish, scholastic. My Italian is juvenile, because I learned it in my late teens and early twenties. I lack appropriate general vocabulary. It takes years of living in a linguistic culture to pick up enough vocabulary to meet your needs for such conversations.
I too thought I would pick up Spanish relatively easily, because I consider it to be a close cousin to Italian. But Italian has always gotten in the way of my Spanish, and now I find I cannot speak Italian as well as before, because I never get a chance to use it and when I do, here in Mexico, I feel so "surrounded" by Spanish that Spanish words I am very familiar with start slipping in when I don't know the word in Italian. Who would ever have imagined I would know the words for: fan, handyman, mopboard, lawn, drainage, water softener, etc. in Spanish but not in German or Italian? Well, it all has to do with the fact that I bought a new house in Mexico and had to make it liveable, where I never did anything like that in Italy or Switzerland. Would that I could...have a house in Italy or Switzerland, that is. Conversely I know absolutely nothing about Mexican literature and have not travelled much in Mexico. I know German literature better than most Germans and I have seen more of Italy than most Italians.
My partner's English is OK. He does not care to improve it. He resists and ignores any corrections I make, so I don't make them anymore. But it is WORK...trying to figure out what he is trying to say sometimes, and I almost always understand what he is saying if he says it in Spanish, but I usually cannot reply in Spanish if it involves in-depth grammatical expertise, especially certain verb conjugations. I once thought I really had the hang of the Spanish subjunctive, and said so in a MexConnect posting, but I have since come to realize that I have not scratched the surface of the Spanish subjunctive. And isn't it odd, what does it tell me, that my partner continues to speak bad English to me and makes me do all sorts of tiring mental gymnastics to figure out what he is trying to say, when he could say it in Spanish in the first place and I would probably understand, and I would learn and make progress in Spanish? Why is it easier for him to speak bad English to me instead of good Spanish?
I have resigned myself to never being able to speak Spanish, or any foreign language, as well as I, and apparently you, and probably many others, wish we could. I am more convinced than ever that bilingualism (or polylingualism) is something that has to be started and accomplished in our youth. The earlier the better. There are many out there who will claim fluency, but that word, fluency, is very much open to interpretation and definition. According to my own definition of fluency, I have never met someone who spoke a foreign language (not his/her mother tongue) fluently who did not learn it in his/her youth.
So my advice to you, which I have taken to heart myself, is to forget ever being fluent in Spanish to the extent that you can hold an in-depth conversation about any randomly occurring subject with a native speaker of Spanish. Let it suffice that you can figure out what the topic is and hold your own, maybe not eloquently, for a couple of minutes. Congratulate yourself that you at least are making an effort to do as much as you can with Spanish. Apparently we are in a tiny minority as most senior expat gringos do not even make an attempt.
I have begun to resign myself to the idea that I am going to be alone here in Mexico when it comes to carry on meaningful conversations with another person. I have not encountered one single expat gringo here. Not one. Hard to imagine that in a city of close to 1 million I am the only one here. I will have to get all my yakking done on my occasional trips NoB to visit friends and family there, and hope that I get invited back even though I have talked the hind leg off of them.