They told me that Spanish wasn’t difficult to learn. They told me that nobody would laugh at me when I tried to use this new language.
They told me a lot of things. Most of it wasn’t true.
I'm still trying, after eight months, to communicate complete sentences without gesturing, drawing pictures and throwing things. The Spanish language is still doing all it can to confuse and bewilder me.
My Spanish professor claims I’m giving her grey hairs. In the meanwhile, I’m going bald from pulling out my hair in frustration.
I’ve tried anticipating conversations in advance by writing down, not only a shopping list, but its Spanish translation. When I want to ask for a specific item, I write the entire question down from the dictionary before I leave home. I started this hoping I could walk in a store, ask for an item, get it, pay for it, and come home.
Hah! Every clerk in every store has taken upon themselves to complicate matters. They don’t just listen and hand over what I ask for. They ask questions!
They want to know what size, what brand, what color, and what price range. Now I know why bank robbers hand the clerks notes —if they told them what they wanted, the clerk would ask what denomination, loose or wrapped, new or old.
Improvising is worse. I went sailing and when I was disembarking I told the captain how much I enjoyed his boat and hoped to sail again, etc. etc. When I was leaving, he had a peculiar look in his eye, one of my hands held in both of his hand and was saying, “Siempre, siempre.”
I went to my Spanish teacher to ask what I had said. “You told him you loved his boots and wanted them (with the captain still inside?) very much.” I gave up sailing.
The tire was low on the car. So I went to the gas station and asked if they had air. (I thought.)
The men kept pointing up the street. I finally got out of the car, pointed at the tire, and waited.
They put air in and I drove to my Spanish teacher’s house. “What did I say?”
“You asked them if they had gas cramps.”
“Why did they keep pointing up the street?”
“I think they were trying to get rid of you,” she said, holding the door open for me.
My teacher seriously recommended I speak more Spanish (without knowing more Spanish). I began stopping Dominicans along the Malecón to pass the time of day in bad Spanish.
Every single Dominican I stopped was studying English in school and wanted to pass the time of day in that language.
I had several excellent conversations where I spoke broken Spanish and my companion spoke broken English. We understood each other about as much as a moose with a mouse.
A friend of mine who heard of my plant-raising difficulties in the Dominican Republic explained to me in a kindly voice: “This is a Spanish-speaking country. You have to talk to your plants in Spanish.”
I tried. All the leaves turned their backs on me —then they fell off.
“I’m never going to understand Spanish!” I told my teacher. “It’s too difficult and all the people talk like their vocal cords are tied to a machine gun!”
“You will speak Spanish!” she said, pulling out another grey hair. “It is much easier than English which doesn’t stick to the rules.”
I reminded her of the verb “ir” which means to go. She had made the mistake of introducing it to me the week before. “To say ‘I go (am going)’, say ‘voy.’”
“How do they get “voy” out of ir?” I asked her.
“It’s irregular. Memorize it.”
Irregular? It’s a nightmare. From “voy,” they use “fuí” for went, then “iba,” “vaya” and “fuera.” All from “ir.”
The only way the words resemble each other is that they are all made up from the same alphabet.
I solved the problem simply. I quit saying I was going or had gone anywhere, and I stayed home.
Spanish has a lot of regularly irregular words like that and my mind is bogged down. I’m considering teaching English to everyone in the Dominican Republic. It would be faster.