Kitchen is not a dirty word….

I’ve always thought Spanish was a beautiful language. Like Italian and French, the words sound musical, like they are part of a melody, a sweet song that lifts and lilts gracefully.

That doesn’t hold true, however, if you’re an Australian learning to speak Spanish for the very first time. If that’s the case you’re more likely to take the beautiful language and mangle entirely.

I’m sure our teacher, the lovely Jessica, felt quite disheartened during the first few days Alex and I spent at Oaxaca Spanish Magic. No word was too simple for us to kill. At one point we managed to turn the word for kitchen – cocina (koh-see-na) – into quite an insult. Jessica went to great pains to explain that our pronunciation – cochina (kotch-ee-na) – could get us into trouble if repeated to the wrong person.

Then there was the word for summer – verrano. Nothing too offensive there, unless of course you manage to pronounce it too slowly. Pronouncing the syllables separately – as in ver ano – then means ugly, or more literally “to see anus”. So we’ve been careful to keep our words at the right pace.

To add to the minefield of mispronunications, my highschool French decided to reappear. I had become aware early in the trip that I was pronouncing any foreign word with a French accent – which made for some interesting attempts at Russian greetings – but it was in Spanish school that it reappeared in force. Not only did I speak with a French accent, I began to unwittingly throw in random French words as well, just to keep everyone on their toes. I think most uttered phrase in that classroom was “We aren’t speaking French Shannon”.

But if we frustrated Jessica, we also made her laugh. A particular conversation about a “man chicken” had her in stitches (I didn’t know the word for rooster) and the whole class was giggling at Jean-Luc when he told everyone he had come to Oaxaca to see a friend and make her children. We thought that was quite a bold statement…but of course he meant to say he was going to meet her children.

And, though I was sceptical about how much Spanish could be learned in two weeks, at the end of the fortnight I found myself having conversations with others. Stagnated conversations, yes, but then if I can find the words to describe Australia Day and talk about how we celebrate it, I figure I can’t be doing too badly.

Most importantly, we can make ourselves understood – with some obligatory charades thrown in. Incidentally I have now worked out that, as with the universal charade for asking for the bill at a restaurant, there is a universal charade for “adaptor”. It has been confirmed on three separate ocassions.

However, I am most pleased to say there is now absolutely no confusion when ordering beers or asking where the nearest pub is. And instead of saying “Cheers” before downing said beers or – as is proving more common these days – mezcal, I can now say something far more appropriate…Arriba, Abajo, Al Centro y Adentro!

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