I’ve traveled a lot in Latin American countries. Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico—all countries where Spanish is the common language. And yet I’ve never learned Spanish. Oh, enough to ask where is this and do you have that and how are you and so forth—but I can’t really follow a conversation or respond intelligently.
I’ve made resolutions, bought the tapes, looked into immersion classes, but somehow have never followed through. My friend and author Chip Morris, a long-time resident of Chiapas and easily tri-lingual, says, “You don’t do it because you don’t need to. You’ve got me.” (Him and others like him—smart people who kindly pave my way as translators. But it’s not the same.)
A brief encounter recently may have put me over the edge, though. I was traveling in Oaxaca with Eric Mindling and his assistant, Maria Guzmán, tagging along as he photographed the abuelas, the grandmas, in their traditional clothing in some of the highland villages. We stopped in a tiny place called Lachirioag (you won’t find it on a map) and found several elderly women, pristine and beautiful in their snow-white traje with vivid red sashes. As Eric and Marina chatted with them in some kind of mix of Spanish and Zapotec (the women mostly spoke Zapotec), they noted that I wasn’t joining the conversation because I didn’t speak Spanish or Zapotec, only English.
“Oh, the poor thing!” they said, gazing on me with pity. “She can’t understand a word we’re saying.”
The poor thing. These women, so poor in worldly goods. Me, so poor in comprehension. I have completely run out of excuses. Eric’s book, tentatively titled Living Threads, won’t be out for more than a year. That should give me time, don’t you think? You will be stunned when you see his photographs. And Chip’s book, Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas, is just now off press, due to release in February (though you can get an advance copy from my sister company, Clothroads, now).
If you have a special method for learning a language in a year, let me know. I’m not looking for fluent, just less pathetic.
7 thoughts on “How do you say “poor thing” in Spanish?”
Have to agree with Sheri. Some people learn from books and tapes. ( I am even related to some of those lucky people). For the rest of us, immersion, being forced to speak to survive is the answer.
Hi Linda – the word is ‘probecita’ – but honestly learning a language means dedication for months or even years! Don’t beat yourself up! At our age it is NOT easy…but I stated when I was 19 when I went to college in Mexico. I’m still not ‘correctly’ fluent but I certainly can talk up a storm and make people laugh on occasion.
So I suggest going into the culture (alone) a month at a time – where your only option is listening (comprehension building) and responding. NO CODE SWITCHING – meaning you can’t go back to English when you get tired. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll gain from this. This has worked for me in the past…and it’s only taken me 40 years to become fluent.
Listen to Spanish radio and get some Latin music that you enjoy and REALLY listen – and listen again so you can start to distinguish the words. This really works.
(I recently got my MA in TESOL – so I have experience personally and with my students.)
Sheri Brautigam – Living Textiles of Mexico
I still want to pursue my guide – hope we can get together at some point. I broke my ankle last month so I’m grounded for awhile. I can send you my iBook sample (so far) of the guide if you have time.
Let’s see, 40 years . . . well, that’s not impossible if I take my vitamins and so forth. I think you’re right – going alone into the culture, no bilingual friends along. I would either learn or — else. Do send me your sample, but after Jan 1.
I agree – try Duolingo. I’ve been using it for almost a year now, and enjoying it a lot. It is free, has a desktop (with an extensive forum) and mobile version, and is different from other language programs I’ve tried, more like a game. But it’s the first one I’ve been able to stick with. I’m not fluent, yet, but I recognize individual words in conversation now, and can read a fair amount. That is with a minimum of ten minutes a day. I’m sure if I would have invested more time each day, I’d be further along. Wishing you success!
pobrecito… poor thing.
i can speak some spanish also, however not fluently. i have a spanish dictionary app on my phone which i use more often than you would think. i love that it will pronounce words for you. it sends me a word of the day everyday which has expanded my vocabulary–one word at a time. i like it when i already know the word, though it is better when i don’t… since it helps me to learn.
feliz navidad y feliz ano nuevo! or jolly holidays!
love your posts, linda!
Wouldn’t that be pobrecita, Susan? That would be me. Thanks for the app idea.
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