Secondary Language


My Spanish is second rate. Intoxication generally improves my conversational skills, or at the very least lowers my inhibition towards making up words. Of sane mind I feel silly adding random o’s and a’s to the end of words. When tipsy “dinosauro” seems a reasonable translation for dinosaur.

Generally the first sentence spoken to me in Spanish I can understand and respond. It is with the third or fourth volley in the dialogue where my brain can no longer keep up. My default position when I lose track of what is being said is to nod my head and say, “si”, occasionally peppering in a shake of my head and a “Wow”.

One time my linguistic pride got me in an awkward situation. I went to Nicaragua with a buddy. The buses that transported you from city to city were the old yellow school bus variety. On our way back to Managua one bus was packed, so I could not sit near my friend. A local man began speaking to me. He asked where I was from. I told him the US. He said some other things which I did not fully understand. As I did not wish to represent my country as an ignorant American I proceeded to nod at his words.

I kept my ears open for something I might comprehend. Finally I was able to catch up, or I thought I did, when he asked, “¿Te gusta Pink Floyd?”

Ah, yes, do I like Pink Floyd? The great British psychedelic band. Of course, I did. So I responded, “Si mucho.” He smiled. “Y Led Zeppelin. Y Los Beatles.” I thought I might get some bonus points by furthering the conversation by asking if he knew how to play guitar. “¿Tocas la guitarra?”

Now it was his turn to look at me confused. Then he repeated again, “No. ¿Te gusta Pink Floyd?” He then pushed out the inside of his cheek with his tongue and moved his closed fist back and forth as though he was performing a lewd act. This time I did not answer him. I got up and walked to an empty seat in the back of the bus with no further intention of practicing my conversational Spanish.

It also took me a while to listen to Pink Floyd again.


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