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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Simon Maloy

Simon Maloy is a Washington, DC-based media analyst and blogger. He studied Spanish in high school but had infrequent opportunities to practice it in the years following, and his speaking and comprehension abilities declined drastically. This became something of an urgent problem when he asked his Mexican girlfriend to marry him. Now he has a wedding in Oaxaca to plan and a whole new set of family members whose first language is Spanish. Simon used Rosetta Stone to reawaken his long-dormant Spanish skills and brush up on the basics, and now he's trying to build the expanded vocabulary and conversational expertise needed to assist his already-fluent fiancée in planning their wedding and to relate to his new in-laws in their native tongue. Simon is from Connecticut originally and graduated from Williams College with a B.A. in history. When not writing or learning Spanish, he makes pretty good ice cream and plays terrible golf.
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