Category Archives: Learning Attitude

Me gusta acostarme con mis estudiantes – I Like to Couch My Students

You didn´t think I was going to leave that last post at that did you?  Really?  How long have you been reading my Blogs?  Oh, nooooo, now it´s ‘balance the books’ time.

So I am with Luis in front of a rather large gathering of prospective students that we have just served a couple of glasses of wine.  We used to have “Free Sample Classes con Piqueo” to attract potential students … but when one class brought in a guy with a gun in his boot who was considering classes so that he could “get” the Surenos (Latino Gang) that had killed his son in a gang related dispute and we had a hard time getting him out of our house cause he was crying so hard, and another guy straight from Moldova (honest to goodness, this is a country, check your map of the Soviet Union) looking like the folks wardrobed for Shindlers List who when he moved through our house changed everything from color to black and white and who stopped half way down our spiral staircase and broke out in Italian Opera, and about 15 other groups who came with their friends for an afternoon of free food and wine sort of like the way people go to those posh weekends for the cost of listening to the Time Share pitch but have absolutely NO intention of taking classes…..we quite having them…..the Free Sample Classes with Piqueo I mean.

So anyway, we have the formal Sample class behind us, we are into the Piqueo (Peruvian term for appetisers or small bites) and are on our second bottle of wine.  Things are getting more relaxed and we can tell these people feel comfortable, maybe even like us.  We are just chatting informally and then one of them asks Luis to sum up in a nut shell, his teaching philosophy.  He looks up, thinks.  Looks to the side, thinks some more.  Looks down and I am getting irritated…..okay, ‘we get that you are reflecting…..what already?  Give us the d… philosophy in a whatever kinda shell!’

The moment finally seems right and he says;  “I Like to couch my students just like my parents couched me.”

If  it’s possible to feel such a thing …. I felt my face go white.  There is this distinct sensation of a color drain beginning with the follicles of my crown and continuing in even levels down to my freshly painted toe nails. 

Well, you can imagine, the half drunk potential students looked to ME for clarification and reassurance and the truth is, I was not in a position to give it to them.  I was as stunned as they were. 

When Luis gets talking, it takes a while for him to take a breath and so he was paddling on while we were all battling the images that were invading our alcohol tenderized brains …. until one of our guests, who had caught enough of his exhaustive explanation to be able to deduce what he had meant to say…..  if I remember right, she was a Minneapolis Police Officer.

“Oh, you mean COACH your students,  you COACH them.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said, couch.”

Well, needless to say, we didn’t get any new students that time either.                        Aquí estamos,  Joan

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Filed under Learning Attitude, Of Some Things Human, The Petri Dish

¿Tienes tu pene? – Do You Have Your Penis?

No, No!  This is not an X rated Blog!  This is an honest Blog about the rough and rocky road that one must take in order to learn another´s language.

When I asked Luis this question he whirled around and looked at me with a combination of horror and true confusion.  I could see his mouth in mid-answer ….. “ye….s”  but he didn´t quite give it to me, his face was not, shall we say…it was not in concordance.  This of course had me confused and I insisted….”Siempre te olivdas tu pene y cuando llegamos al carro tu me preguntas si yo lo tengo.”  (You are always forgetting your penis and when we get to the car you ask me if I have it.) 

By now the horror on his face is complete, the confusion has just left altogether.

Let me allow you into the deep labyrinths of my psych for just a moment.  Don’t worry, it’s just for a quick second, just to help you understand what was happening with me as I demanded a serious answer to my question.  You see, it´s exhausting being married to my Spanish teacher.  He lets nothing pass, I always (it seems)  have one little thing wrong, be it an ‘a’ instead of an ‘o’, or a ‘this tense’ over a ‘that tense’ or my pronunciation is messed up and I have to repeat until I sound more “native” at which point I can’t even remember what I was trying to say….. and to be honest I think this one is about not wanting to hear what I was trying to say……and THIS is what had the death hold on me when I was challenging him in so many words with, “it’s 8 PM do you know where your penis is?”

I had decided that I was going to insist this time.  I was not going to let him get me off track with all of his infuriating corrections. I was saying everything right, doggone it and I was going to insist that he understand me.  Now where I ever came up with the idea that this technique would work as well with a language as it did when I successfully returned that pair of pants I bought too small the day before they went on sale and could no longer be returned….is somewhere deep in that psych you guys are now privileged to.

Anyway, he breaks away from Spanish….I hate when he does that with me …. it’s just another way to castigate me (careful, careful) for my Spanish.  He says;  “You have to tell me what you just said again, but please honey, you look so beautiful tonight, I love your eyes…blah, blah, blah….tell me in English.” 

Yeah I know, the sweet talk gets me every time.  Geese, give me a break, at 50 whatever, my days are numbered for these types of adorations….I buckle.  I say;  “I saaaiiiidddddd……DO……YOU……..HAVE……..YOUR……..COOOOMMB?

He loses it.  He starts laughing and can not get control.  I have already lost mine as well and so this is not a pretty moment for us.  I hear the neighborhood go suddenly silent….I know that without a doubt that Mrs. Hill down the street is completely motionless, just straining so as not to miss a single sylable that’s to follow.

“Honey, amor, bebé es PEINE, no PENE.  Peine es comb, pene es penis.

Grrrrr  %&$#”                                                                                  Aquí estamos,   Joan


Filed under Learning Attitude, Of Some Things Human, The Petri Dish

Viája a Nicaragua con Jessica – Travel to Nicaragua with Jessica

Today I am going to do something a little different and really fun for me.  I am going to introduce you to a student of ours that became a friend and now is more a friend than a student but that doesn´t mean that she has stopped studying with us, only that we could lose her as a student and still be okay, because you know, sometimes students move on and well,  that´s understandable and something we have to live with, but to have a friend move on? – well that would fall into a catagory all together different called ‘really sad’  so I hope it won´t happen, at least for a very long time if it happens at all.  We love it when our students become dear friends! 

JessJessica in Kayakica  runs a business called Un Buen Viaje and the second I can get away I’m taking one of her trips without a doubt.  In fact she’s got some coming up in the fall, and I may find myself on one of them……so anyway everybody…….. Heeeeeeeeerrrrrrre’s Jessica!

Joan:  Jessica, tell us about Un Buen Viaje.

Jessica:  ¡Un Buen Viaje! is my way of giving back to the country that has given me so much. After four years of research and a continuously vivid dream, I launched Together with two dependable local guides we are a small group travel company leading tours in Nicaragua. We take individuaP5170637ls, couples, families, photographers, birders, kayakers, hikers, history buffs, coffee lovers, foodies, really anyone who is adventurous enough to step out of their comfort zone and into this colorful, big-hearted country.

Our focus is on being responsible travelers. We emphasize this by engaging our guests in the communities in which we travel and encouraging active involvement. Our travelers learn about Nicaragua from the inside out, through the voices of its people, its complex history, and rich culture. It’s more than just a ‘place’ to visit or a ‘thing’ to do. It’s about treading lightly in our host’s backyard and showing thanks for their invitation to visit. Como la gente dice siempre, “a la orden.”

Joan:  HikingWhy Nicaragua?  What attracts you to this country in particular?

Jessica:  Nicaragua chose me, in a way. In 2002 Peace Corps sent me to the largest country in Central America as a sustainable agriculture volunteer, introducing me to a land of lakes, volcanoes, cloud forests, beaches, curious creatures, and vibrant and socially active gente with a complicated past. While I did not remain in Peace Corps, Nicaragua remained in my heart. It’s the incredible beauty, diversity, and perseverance of the people that keeps me going back for more. I can’t imagine ever running out of things to explore.

Joan:  Tell us about your experience in creating a Business in a country that has a language different than yours? P5070292

Jessica:  Most of the ‘business’ takes place here in my Minneapolis office. Starting a small international travel company is a lot like starting any other small business. Same hoops. Same hurdles. Getting to travel in Nicaragua is the reward for the hard work.

When I use P5150577my Spanish here in Minneapolis it’s mainly to connect with Nicaraguan businesses, organizations and individuals to ask for information or advice in their area of expertise. A lot of this communication is done via e-mail so I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my written skills.

Of course, once we touch down in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city, it’s all Spanish. Bilingual Nicaraguans are in the minority and English is practically non-existent outside of the capital city and Granada, Nicaragua’s hotbed for expats. In-country is where I’m most challenged and when the practice (Spanish class with Luis, e-mails, Twitter, surfing Spanish language websites) pays off. There are taxis to be called, reservations to be made, friends to visit, drinks to be ordered! I love nothing more than being in the moment, making it all happen with my second language.

Joan:  What if I don’t know Spanish and have no interest in learning it, can I still enjoy a trip with Un Buen Viaje?

The awesome thing about communication is that it is so much bigger than words. Imagine a handshake, a wink, a wrinkle of the nose or the forehead, a smile, a laugh, an “Ah ha!” I sometimes think those with a lesser understanding of the Spanish language than me often have an easier time communicating as it comes more from the heart than the head. Anyone with an open mind is sure to enjoy traveling with us.P5190693

Joan:  What if I am passionate about the Spanish language and culture, what in particular, does your trip have to offer someone like me?

Jessica:  Because only a minority of Nicaraguans speak English you are likely to find yourself immersed in the language and culture the moment you step foot in the land of lakes and volcanoes (and poets!). Our tours our designed to highlight Nicaragua’s diverse landscape, annual festivities, and musical and theatrical expression throughout the country. We create itineraries around these special occasions ensuring the opportunity for our guests to get a glimpse of life as it is lived by the people. One of our most favorite events in all of Nicaragua is Diriamba’s patron saint festival, which celebrates San Sebastian and takes place at the end of January. During the festivities, El Güegüense (Macho Raton), a satirical drama well known throughout Nicaragua, is performed in the city streets. It’s a synthesis of Indigenous and Spanish cultures combining theater, dance and music, and is considered one of Latin America’s most distinctive colonial-era expressions.

While NicP5210754aragua is not Peru nor Guatemala with their prevalent indigenous populations, massive ruins, and woven handbags, Nicaragua IS full of action. Nicaraguans always seem to be moving and shaking to their own rhythm, and they are more than happy to have you join in. Ya, estoy lista para ir!

Joan:  When is your next trip and when do I need to be in touch with you in order to travel with you?

Jessica:  We have several upcoming affordable tours and it’s not too late to make your travel plans with us. If you are looking for a custom itinerary or would like to choose your own travel dates, feel free to contact us to discuss the options. Vamanos!

October 24-November 4, 2009 (12 days)
November 21-29, 2009 (9 days)
December 2-13, 2009 (12 days)
December 16-27, 2009 (12 days) CHRISTMAS IN NICARAGUA!

Joan:  Thanks Jessica.  I’m thinking December 2 – 13….. hey, by-the-way, you and Michael wanna come over for dinner sometime next week?  Jessica?  Jessica?  Hey Jessica…..I guess she had to run…..

So anyway, there you have it!  My friend Jessica and her tour company Un Buen Viaje.  Here are some additional links that will connect you to all the action! (blog)  ¡Un Buen Viaje! on Facebook                        Aquí estamos,  Joan

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook


Filed under Culture, Learning Attitude

¿Lo dices en serio? – Are You Serious?


Joan at her computer, readying the next group of articles.  Luis and René (friend and video editor of Viajando en Español)  at her back talking as though she weren’t there.

Luis:  ¿Como está Paola?  ¿Como va su embarazo?  (How is Paola? (René´s wife) How is the pregnancy going?)

René:  Bien, normal …  (good, as would be expected)

Joan:  body turned toward computer as though in deep concentration, however if you were listening carefully you would have heard the hydraulic of her internal satellite dish reorienting to fix itself directly over these two guys that seem to heading toward thin ice.

René: (continuing with a tone of exasperated authority as though covering well trod territory):  “….quejandose acerca del dolor en su cadera …. pero pasa así … el bebé crece más rapido en el primer trimestre que en los otros y las caderas necesitan expandirse para acomodar la creatura.” (…..complaining about the pain in her hips, but that´s the way it is, the baby grows faster and bigger in the first trimester than in any other and the hips need to expand in order to accommodate the baby.)

Luis (Bio: neither father, gynecologist nor obstetrician): “¿Está con nausea y mal humor?  Siempre es así con todos los cambios en el cuerpo y por las hormonas.”  (Is she nauseous and crabby?  With all the changes in her body because of the hormones, it´s always like that.)

René:  “No con nausea pero con dolor de la cabeza y siempre está pensando, con cada sensacion en el cuerpo, que algo malo está pasando pero yo le dije que todo lo que está sentiendo es normal.”  (No, she doesn’t have nausea, but she does have headaches and with every little thing she feels she thinks that something is wrong but I told her that she is feeling what all pregnant women feel.)

Luis:  “Sí es así.  Ellas necesitan mucho consuelo, como niñas”  (Yah, that’s the way it is.  They need a lot of reassurance, like little girls.)

Joan:  (rrrrrrrrr, sound of satellite returning to it’s original position)


Now one might conclude that what was said was not nearly as bad as what my first husband said to me. (In fact it was a series of these that lead him to receiving the number before his title)  When #1 heard me recounting to a friend how utterly painful labor was he said in all honest to god seriousness;  “You weren’t in pain!  Giving birth is like having the biggest orgasm possible.”  (What?  Hello?  You weren’t in that room with me?  Oh ya that’s right, you kept trying to sneak out to get something to eat!  You were the one experiencing discomfort and pain.  You must have missed my screaming and crying out and begging for a cesarean! )  To this ridiculous myth deserving sure and immediate death I retorted;  “Yeah, “big” in the same way pooping out an 8 lb watermelon is.”

So it wasn’t that bad what Luis and René had to say.  Still, there was an irritating attitude of  ‘all-knowing’ as these guys discussed what it was like to be pregnant.  I am THERE, in the room with them, natural birth mother of two, listening in …  and not even a ceremonial consultation for accuracy.  Man ….   But do you know what was the first thing that came to my mind?   It was NOT that all men every where act as if they had been female in a previous life,  because this is a truly perplexing and horrifying universal phenomenon across cultures.  NO!  Instead, the first thing I thought was; “Oh my gosh.  They are speaking in Spanish about this because they don’t want me to know what they are saying.  They know that they are fools and they know that I would totally bust them if I heard what they were saying so all boys-clubby like.  They don’t think that I can understand them!”  

Yes, it was insecurity over my Spanish!  Can you believe that!  My “I am woman, hear me roar”, took a back seat to what I perceived as their critique of my Spanish!  Rather than being amused (I’m too old to be outraged at this kinda stuff anymore) by the universal folly men seem to demonstrate about all things female, I was instead completly crushed about what I thought, they thought about my Spanish.

Holy cow, I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a thousand times more …. three steps forward, one step back.  (But psst…lean in a little…..would you think me petty and childish if I were to tell you that I felt a little better this morning when Luis asked me;  “What does it mean to ‘jump sheep’?”   Biting the inside of my mouth I said with all the respect I could muster; “That’s ‘jump ship’ honey, ‘jump ship’.     Seguimos adelante,  Joan


Filed under Learning Attitude, Of Some Things Human, The Petri Dish

¡Vayase! – Get Outta here! parte II

43 days later –  Buenos Aires –  departamento que da a la calle, el 3 piso, con balcón (mi eleccion de modo que fue posible ver todo el mundo desde mi dormitorio)

Luis is already in the throws of “fining tune”, (that´s “fine tuning” en inglés) MY well thought out choices for my VERY OWN SOLO experience here in Buenos Aires.  “Honey, are you sure you want to be so close to that busy street… you will never sleep at night.”


Luis:  “What time are you meeting this guy you will do that work with?”


Luis:  “Maybe I’ll go to the bookstore where you’re meeting him too, because I have a couple of books I want to buy for my classes. ”


1 hour later – Bookstore Coffee Shop – Joan and Dr. Cabeza sipping espressos y platicando  (going well)

Luis:  “Hola, mi nombre es Luis, soy esposo de Joan.  Mucho gusto.  Yo estaba buscando libros para mi trabajo, soy profesor de español en el estado de Minnesota, cerca de Canadá.”


Luis:  “Honey, sorry to interrupt,  I just wanted to ask you if you want me to look for a good cookbook for us to take home with us.”

Dr. Cabeza:  “Mucho gusto Luis.  Por favor toma un asiento.  ¿Quieres un cafecito?”


Following day – address in hand – making a dry run on the Subte toward place of  ‘pacentia’

Luis:  “Okay, what you want to do is get here early, cause you can see that it’s total chaos at this time in the morning.  Now, you don’t have your purse do you?  Remember how I told you to keep all your stuff in your front pocket and be alert to the people on your sides and behind you?” 


Next day – first day of pacentia – Joan heads out alone – but this, only after very long discussion the night before about how Joan has already lived 50 years very successfully on this earth, at times even averting danger due to her measured caution, agility and general lack of stupidity.  The deal was sealed however only after an agreement to carry mace concealed in closed fist and to check in by cell every two hours. 

Joan has effortlessly negotiated 3 subway lines and 8 blocks on foot,  is almost at the clinic door where she will begin her first day of work.  An experience, born of an idea, that she took from it’s vaporous inception all the way through to it’s no ‘detail left unplanned for’, reality.  (well, except for the buying of the plane ticket)  She will be working with a well known and respected Psychologist, Director of a Clinic for chronic drug and alcohol dependents, the same man who was appointed to this position by the Argentinean Undersecretary of Mental and Chemical Health who in turn reports directly to President Kirchner.  She will be meeting with this Undersecretary later in her pacentia and could even score an introduction to the Prez himself.

Just a few steps more and Joan will be ringing the bell of the Clinic’s unassuming and secured front door.  Suddenly, out of no where she feels the presence of someone walking up way too fast behind her.  It feels as though this person does not intend to pass on either the left or the right, but is heading for a direct hit to her back side.  Joan thinks quickly and remembering that one of our best allies is the element of surprise,  she decides to interrupt the forward momentum of this person but stopping abruptly and whirling around to face them.  To add more confusion and by so doing maximize her advantage as well hedge her bets by alerting those people on the other side of the street that there is something happening on this side, she decides to yell, “¡Vayase!”  simultaneously.

1.5 seconds later, plan in place – Joan executes it

Joan:   Stops, whirls, yells – “¡VAYASE!”

Person:  Unintelligible scream, then;  “Honey, ¿Qué haces?   ¡Me matas de susto!”


Luis:  “I just wanted to make sure you got there safely.”

The people across the street stopped for a moment, looked our way, said something to one another shaking their heads as they spoke, then continued on.  It was pretty clear Luis and I knew one another – I suppose we looked like just another couple that could use the help of a counselor.         Stay safe and keep the love alive!   Joan

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Filed under Culture, La Casa Rojas - On-line Magazine, Learning Attitude, Of Some Things Human, Teaching Methodologies

¡Vayase! – Get outta here!

So we are in Buenos Aires about 2 years ago, Luis and I.  Reluctantly I brought him along on a trip that I arrange to get CEU hours for the renewal of my Psychology license.  He wasn´t invited initially mind you.  I wanted to do this on my own. 

The idea was to improve the Spanish I used at work.  I was already good at chatting it up casually with a native Spanish speaker, I could talk about the day´s news or what I thought would or could happen if something else occurred…I could even expound upon what the future held should you decide to embrace it.  Subjunctiveville.  I owned the town. 

But I was still missing two things critical to my practicing psychology effectively with the Spanish speaker.  The more obvious of these was  was vocabulary.  You know, how do I say …  Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Features of Anxiety and Depression, Differential Diagnosis of  Trichotillomania, Rule Out Borderline Personality, though this seemed quite straightforward and easy enough to pick up.  The less obvious but more critical thing I was lacking had to do with ‘world view’.   I didn´t quite get what was perceived as a problem and what wasn´t.  What the beliefs were surrounding why particular types of problems occur and what must be done to eradicate them, if it is even seen possible.  Fascinating stuff, but for other entries.  In this one I am wanting to talk about my marriage.

I´m fairly industrious and since all great feats start with nothing more than an idea and I was teeming with those … I figured I was off to a good start.  Idea;  study in Buenos Aires.  The obvious first step was to see if there were any conferences being offered during the time I wanted to go.  This investigation turned up a big fat ‘nada’, but not to go down with at least the appearance of a fight, I called Luis´ brother Dany, who lives in Buenos Aires and asked him who he knew, just to keep the momentum going.  Dany´s a heart doctor and not a head doctor, but I figured he probably has access to all the varieties through a hospital wide staff meeting or something, whatever, he´s sweet and I knew he´d come up with someone.  And he did.  Turns out it was not someone from the hosptial at all, but someone that happened to attend the same church he did.  Good enough.

Yippee, idea is turning into something that promises substance…. this is good.  Next – write letter to ‘head doctor’, (Dany didn’t know his specialty exactly, just knew he dealt with ‘los problemas de la cabeza’), tell him that I got his name from the guy with 4 girls that sits behind him and across the aisle at the 8 30 service at el Iglacia de San Ignacio, check.  Tell him that I want to do a ‘pacentia’ under him, offer some money for his trouble, sit back and wait.  Check, check, check.  Long story short, it’s a Bingo.  Time to buy the plane tickets.

After a long day at work, I come home to Luis jumping up and down.  “¡Habemos tickets!”   Luis, Southern Baptist, knows nothing of the Catholic tradition and found it fascinating when the new Pope was introduced to the world first with a ribbon of smoke from a chimney followed by the proclamation, “HABEMUS PAPA”.  So when ever something is really exciting to him, he takes liberties with the expression.  In this case “¡Habemos tickets!”   Brings to mind potatoes and chili peppers for me but anyway… when I heard him say “Habemos”, I heard the “…mos” part more than the “Habe…” part and knew I was in for the other shoe.  “Honey, I decided I am going too!”  What!?  What happened to all the “…you need to get out there and use the language, you need to take chances, you need to push yourself to the limit ….”?

…….to be continued…….             Joan

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Cuando los ánimos se intensifiquen – When Emotions Become Intense

Remember the 50’s show “I Love Lucy”?  Remember how Ricky, from Cuba, would begin to rapid fire Spanish every time he got a little hot under the collar?  Of course the joke was that his Latin blood had predisposed him to go from 0 to 100 in a micro-second but old stereotypes and Lucy´s extraordinary perturbations aside, the aspect of this that fascinates me is that when he was feeling strongly, he automatically switched from his second language, English, to his first, Spanish.

Luis has had students that are ER Nurses, Paramedics, Fire Fighters, Doctors and Police officers, what we refer to as those first responders.  And each of them share like stories about being called upon to respond to a crisis that involves a native speaker of a language other than English.  They explain that  under the pressure of  terror or grief or pain or excitement or relief, their patients reverted to their native language.  They may have known English, but suddenly could not speak it nor understand it.

In fact I had this very experience with Luis.  He’d been here with me in the US, only 3 months when he had a medical emergency.  He had begun to feel pain in his side earlier in the day that only increased in intensity into the evening.  After much resistance from him through out this episode, at midnight and in response to his writhing and speaking only Spanish (I knew very little Spanish at this time), I insisted in taking him to the ER.  Long story short; his appendix burst.  Point of story; he did not speak a word of English from the moment the pain became difficult to bear until he was home 3 days later and resting more or less comfortably after his surgery.  NOT A WORD OF ENGLISH.

Pressure of any kind can trigger a default response and send us reeling back to what was programmed first.  Luis and I live a life that is very busy with multiple simultaneous deadlines and priorities.  Most of the time we are able to coordinate a very complex dance together successfully.  Now and then, we collide.  During these collisions, if they were listening, (oh, man, I hope not!) our neighbors would hear a mix of Spanish and English….Luis in Spanish and me in English.  The discussion would be animated and fluent, but fluent between two languages. 

Once we had a guy in our house putting in ceramic tile when one of these events between Luis and I occurred.  Once we had resolved the issue, I went to get a cup of coffee near where the tile guy was working and he looked at me with this expression of utter amazement and said;  “That was one of the most interesting things I have ever heard.  I totally understood what you were saying and not at all, what Luis was saying but clearly you guys got it all.  Man, that was weird.”

Of course we are all familiar with the phenomenon where we are new in the language and find ourselves in a situation where we need to or want to use it.  Our nerves get the best of us and the only words we can retrieve are taken from our native dictionary. 

Okay, so heightened emotions of any kind bring us back to our roots.  But how are ‘roots’ defined exactly.  Consider this poignant story.  Luis as a child became friends with the daughter of missionaries who had come to his church in Peru.  He was about 7 or 8 years old, so was she.  She only knew English when she moved to Peru but learned Spanish quickly and spoke mostly Spanish until she left Peru for the States at about age 11 or 12.  She did not return to Peru again and used her Spanish only occasionally in her life in Portland OR.  Now fast forward 30 years.  THIRTY YEARS.  She was diagnosed with brain cancer and spent just a few short months more on this earth. 

Luis called her 3 weeks or so before she died.  They hadn’t talked with one another for 30 years and yet each had made an impact on the other such that this contact so many years later brought them rushing back in time.  It was as though they’d never been apart.  Luis started out in English, she in Spanish.  He switched to Spanish and they talked for more than an hour.  At the end of the conversation she thanked him.  Told him that speaking in Spanish had satiated her, brought her a sensation of being ‘home’ again, provided a sense of wholeness and relief.  He told me that her Spanish was impeccable, complete with the accent and cadence of the region in which she had lived in Peru.

Can we call up an emotion and with it the language in which we experienced it?  In this case perhaps Luis’ friend was surrendering to those happy moments in her childhood when she and he had played together.  Her life was lived in Spanish then.  Yes, her first language was English and she only spent 4 years living in Spanish after which the next 30 years were lived again in English.  Yet, when she was confronted with an emotion filled memory of those years in Spanish, only Spanish would due, washing over her with peace.  And her Spanish was perfect, “Como una limeña.”

Emotional context has power.  It´s real and raw and has deep and mysterious roots.  Luis and I talk about context a lot when speaking about what brings a language to life and helps one internalize it as their own.  It´s a risky business to be sure, whether you expose yourself to a real person speaking about real things from their heart in their native tongue, or whether you challenge yourself to experiences in your new language, the emotional component on each side yields power like no text book ever will.  Expose yourself to real people, talking about real things.  Challenge yourself to real experiences.  You do these two things and you´ll weaken your excuse that you can´t learn because you have a lousy memory!    Sigamos adelante,  Joan    La Casa Rojas – the magazine


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