I have lived in the mountains of Puerto Rico for the past twenty seven years. If I had lived in any other Spanish speaking country for this amount of time, I have no doubt that I would be totally bilingual.
Having studied Spanish in both high school and college, I came to Puerto Rico with the ability to read and write and a pretty good vocabulary, although once I got here, I spent most of my time saying, “Que?....what?..slow down….mas despacio, por favor.” After living with a Neyorican who speaks extremely fast,in both English and Spanish, I finally can understand most people face to face. But how come I still can’t understand the guy on the radio telling jokes in the morning? I used to ask the kids if they understood what the guy said, and they would laugh and explain the joke to me. It may have been a lousy joke, but they understood it. Oh well..so much for radio banter..what about the printed page? I should be able to read the headlines…and yet sometimes I’m at a loss for the key words….maybe they’re slang..I don’t know but it seems unbelievable that I can’t!
We have guests that swear that no one speaks English on this island. They’re amazed that with English classes in the schools and so much stateside influence of movies and television that more people don’t speak English and yet everywhere I go and ask a question, people answer me in English. I think people are shy to speak English but anxious to try and practice it, so when I ask a question in Spanish they jump at the chance to answer me in English. I suppose it’s my accent, but I’m often asked if I’d be more comfortable speaking English even though the person asking me may have their own heavy accent.
I have the utmost respect for any person who lives in a country and has to speak a language other than their native tongue. It can be exhausting…or is that just because I haven’t passed the fluency barrier? I do know that it just takes practice to speak another language. After a recent article in the local paper, we’ve had a lot of phone calls and I’ve answered a lot of questions..and with just a month or so of telephone talk, I’ve become more fluent..at least on the subject of TJ Ranch…so practice is the key….but Puerto Rico can make you lazy. The beauty of Puerto Rico..besides the physical beauty…is that I can live here in a ‘foreign’ country where people speak a ‘foreign’ language and yet I can speak English, pay in dollars…it’s foreign, but ‘convenient’. I can also get by with butchering both languages and speak the familiar Spanglish. I can invent words and can be readily understood. I don’t think that would be the case in the mountains of Bolivia.
And so mis amigos….I’ll say adios and tu sabes…I’ll try to work mas duro and practice so that I don’t get so cansada trying to speak. Yo se que yo puedo..I know that I can. Don’t let me switch you over… hablame en español y dejame contestarte.