Getting to grips with a new language

Getting to grips with a new language

We’ve been drowning in subjunctives and past imperfects in a late bid to improve our Spanish. None of us had a word of Spanish when we came here four-and-a-half months ago, and now we all leave with the basics of one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. After just a few weeks of lessons, we have acquired a decent grounding vocabulary and impressive pronounciation.

With classmates from La Mariposa

With classmates from La Mariposa

The only problem is that the adults have picked up the vocabulary but still sound like anglophones, while the girls, through their playground immersion, have authentic pronounciation but little vocabulary. We say “Granada” like it was a British television station; in contrast, the word rolls enviably off Ella’s tongue the way it should in these parts.

Our only regret is that we didn’t have more time to bed down our linguistic knowledge and ensure the seeds we’d sown with the girls survive to flourish. It seems to take about nine months for children to acquire fluency and, like riding a bicycle, it’s something they should never forget.

Nicaragua in particular proved an excellent place to learn Spanish as few people speak English and most are only delighted to engage with the extranjeros. Language classes are widely available and very affordable. In the early days, the two of us took classes together, passing Luca from one to the other or putting him down for a sleep in his buggy. But as he grew older and more assertive, that proved more difficult and the amount of juggling during classes increased. Still, at eight months, he has started rolling his Rs impressively.

Rosa with her certificate - all worth it in the end.

Rosa with her certificate – all worth it in the end.

It helped that we took our last batch of classes last week in La Mariposa language school in south-western Nicaragua. As well as being a school, La Mariposa is something of a zoo; the wonderful tree-filled grounds are filled with all kinds of animal life. Dogs, cats, hens and ducks run free; exotic birds and monkeys make an unholy racket from the safety of their caged enclosures. Classes take place outdoors in the middle of this animal brouhaha, and even Luca had a “teacher” or minder for some of the time we were taking lessons. Unfortunately, his tired wails were on occasion as stong as any avian cackle or monkey howls when he was ready for sleep. It’s very hard to drill grammar into your dull adult brain when there’s a baby giving it socks in the background. Our classmates called us ‘The Family’ and appeared to be tickled by our collective endeavours.

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