Confessions of a “Taco Bell” Spanish Speaker

I have a couple of confessions to make.

Confession #1

When my wife and I were actively considering moving abroad we created a specific checklist of what we were looking for: a low cost of livingideal climate…proximity to our family in the States…excellent medical care…cultural activities…and modern conveniences.

Learning a second language was not on the list.

Once we discovered that Cuenca, Ecuador checked all of our boxes we knew that learning Spanish would be required. But we weren’t looking forward to it.

Being a person who sometimes walks into a room and can’t remember why he’s there, I am painfully aware that the storage capacity of my aging brain is not what it once was.

Some people seem to have a knack for picking up new languages. My wife is not one of them.

So we arrived here three years ago with what I call “Taco Bell-level Spanish” and a determination to master our new language. We knew if we were to survive we were going to have to speak Spanish.

Surprise! It didn’t take long to realize that many of the locals speak at least some English. And they like nothing better than practicing their English on you.

English is taught in all the schools, and a lot of the taxi drivers and professionals like doctors and lawyers have spent time in the U.S. This isn’t always the case in smaller rural locations but generally holds true in the bigger Ecuadorian cities of Cuenca, Quito, and Guayaquil.

Our motivation for learning Spanish thus shifted from necessity to obligation. We’re not fans of “for English press 1, for Spanish press 2,” so, as good guests in this country, we felt compelled to improve our language skills.

With minimal knowledge of Spanish we’ve always gotten something to eat and made it home. And we can certainly converse to a greater extent than being polite, finding the bathroom, and ordering a beer.

Confession #2

After three years, our Spanish is not where we thought it would be.

It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I hope our lack of prowess hasn’t doomed us to eternal damnation. Yes, our vocabulary has improved both through studying in fits and starts and simply by constant exposure in daily life.

But with our sometimes mangled pronunciation and improper subject/verb agreement I assure you no one is mistaking us for native speakers.

Still we get out there and enthusiastically do our best. The locals are patient and so appreciative of any effort to communicate, and they don’t really expect us to speak perfect Spanish.

Don’t let your lack of language skills keep you from moving abroad. My wife and I are enjoying an amazing life experience and are absolute proof that you can learn enough to get by.

We’re both diligently studying again and are proud of ourselves for continuing to plod along.

After a lifetime of stress we have no desire to put undue pressure on ourselves. We may never be able to have deep philosophical discussions in Spanish, but in due time I know we will be content with our mastery of the language.

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