Crossing the Conversational Divide

One evening this past August I found myself travel-stained and weary, sitting in a dimly lit living room in Puebla, Mexico. My fiancée, Leslie, and I had spent the majority of the day on two different planes and a bus, only to arrive in Puebla and be whisked almost immediately to her aunt’s house so that the Mexican side of her family could welcome us, meet me for the first time, celebrate our engagement, and commemorate my 29th birthday. It was a marvel of efficient hospitality.

So there I sat, a potent restorative beverage in hand, trying to follow the rapid-fire Spanish conversation that was coming from all sides. I’d spent the past couple of months working diligently with Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish, Levels 2 and 3, so I was able to follow most of what was said in individual conversational threads. The problem was that those threads kept getting tangled with others.

Sensing that perhaps I might have been struggling, my fiancée’s Mexican uncle asked me, in English, “Do you understand what is being said?” Before I could answer, my fiancée’s American father interjected, in fluent Spanish, explaining that I’m still learning and that it helps if people speak a little more slowly: Él todavía está aprendiendo. Le ayuda si se habla lentamente. Her uncle nodded, turned back to me, and said slowly, in perfect deadpan, “DO. YOU. UNDERSTAND?”

Joking aside, I did understand—a great deal more than I expected to, anyway, and I even got a compliment on my accent from an enthusiastic aunt. Not too bad for a Connecticut Yankee, if I do say so. But understanding and interacting are very different animals, and it was in the interacting that I encountered the most difficulty, getting flustered when the correct words weren’t immediately on my tongue, or when my earnest efforts at engaging in conversation were met with polite but confused smiles.

It was something I resolved to work on diligently—not just because I want to improve my Spanish, but also because Leslie and I decided after returning from our trip that we want to get married in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s a big task planning a wedding in a foreign country where there’s a different mother tongue. My fluent-in-Spanish fiancée is an enormously capable person, but I’m not going to saddle her with that load. And, while I can get by well enough with my existing Spanish skills, they just aren’t going to cut it in a business context.

So, I’ve begun working with Level 4 of Rosetta Stone Version 4 TOTALe. Already it’s reaping dividends, and to ease my entry into the bilingual planning, I’ve taken on translation duty on our wedding website. One of my first tasks was informing our Spanish-speaking guests how to take advantage of the special wedding rate for hotel rooms, Aprovechar la tarifa especial para la boda.

It’s going to be tough, pero al fin, me voy a casar con mi novia preciosa. So, yeah . . . it’ll be worth it.

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  • Craig J

    It is much easier to understand what is being said than actually speaking yourself when learning a new language. You will also have trouble responding in time to keep up with the conversation, especially with relatives. Add into that the local slang words and references to family members to make it more difficult.
    But practice like this with native speakers is the best way to learn and having a Mexican fiancée is a great motivator!!

  • Erik H.

    Great story, Simon. This is so me, my situation is almost identical as yours. Only my problem is I cannot understand it. My listening comprehension skills lack any sort of form or substance. So for Craig, I think it is more difficult for some to understand it.

  • Ted Abbott

    Erik and I are in the same boat, RS doesn’t offer Cebuano

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