Cathy's Page

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I need more Spanish

Posted by Cathy Douglas on June 11, 2010 at 9:36 AM

I took two foreign languages in high school, majored in one in college, and have putzed around with a couple more of them in adulthood.  People will always say, "What are you ever going to use that for?"  I never had any practical sounding answer; I just love languages, all of them, and like to mess around with them.  Sure, it's fun to look at a picture of Tokyo and be able to decipher the street signs, or understand what my brother's German family is saying when they talk to each other.  But it's not much of an excuse.


Spanish, though, is something I use just about every day I go to work.  When I wrote Canta de Rocio, some reviewers wondered what a Mexican immigrant would be doing in Wisconsin.  In reality there's a big Hispanic community here, many of them newcomers who speak very little English.  The wife of the family next door doesn't, as far as I know, have more than basic English.  At the store, it's much easier to help out some customers by using both languages-- Manuel, for example, a Cuban musician, or this one married couple fascinated by Feng Shui.  They spend a lot of money, and if they want to know how a convex mirror affects energy flow differently than a concave mirror, we've got to dig around a little for words of common understanding.


We get drop-ins who don't speak any English at all, and then Ashley and I have to wing it in Spanish.  Once this guy came in desperate for this stuff you take to flush the evidence of pot smoking out of your system; I had to explain that we're not a head shop, but that he could probably find what he was looking for down the street at either Knucklehead's or the Community Pharmacy.  Sometimes old men and women come to visit from the countryside who know a lot about traditional magical practices, and of course they have zero English.  It's fascinating to chat with them about this stuff, to decipher some story they're trying to tell me about clearing ghosts out of an old church with burning rocks.  (Yes it's weird, but I'm pretty sure that's what that old abuelo was talking about.)


Yesterday a woman came in who works at Samba's, the very fashionable Brazilian grill a couple shops down, asking all kinds of questions about how to use tarot cards and what a pentacle means.  My Spanish just wasn't up to anything that complicated.  


I do have enough Spanish to read in the language, which will help me improve my vocabulary and grammar.  For right now, I'm adding a couple bilingual story books to the reading pile.

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Reply guy
1:36 PM on November 14, 2010 
Where i work, knowing a foreign language is a must. The guy from Harvard Ill in the cubicle next to me is really good at Spanish. I like hearing his phone conversations where he switches into Spanish. We work in Milwaukee with lots of Chinese, Russian, Polish, & Spanish speakers.

As someone who is fluent in Japanese, i can tell you that it's useful for more than reading street signs. In fact, i've made a living off being really good at Japanese and English. But aside from the profit angle, one can read Japanese literature or economics or philosophy or just communicate with Japanese people. The same would be true of any modern language.
Reply Matt Potter
6:34 PM on November 14, 2010 
Yes, it's true - we do think the mid-West is filled with blonde, blue-eyed descendants of Swedes and Germans and Scots! But the truth beneath the idea is always more interesting. This was an interesting read.
Reply sherry o'keefe
1:02 PM on November 17, 2010 
this to say, your honesty has got to ring true in many languages. thanks to the language carnival, i'm pleased to discover your blog.

best to you.
Reply Nicolette Wong
3:44 AM on November 27, 2010 
This post makes me smile because I'm interested in traditional magical practices and I also want to learn Spanish ;)

I'm hosting the Dec edition of Lang/Place and I hope you'll send something again - show us more glimpses into where you are!