I'm envious of Europeans who can travel small distances and find themselves in the midst of people speaking a different language. German, Scandinavian languages in the north lands, Russian, Polish, Czech. Hungarian if you go East; South, Greek, Italian, Serbo-Croacian; and West. Spanish, French, English, Dutch.
'Cerro del Aguilas' ( Hill of Eagles ) East of Oaxaca
By the time children reach 10 they have picked up some part of neighboring countries language... its as common for them to visit other cultures it is for us in Califortnia to travel to a neighboring county or state. I am astonished at the number of people in Europe who speak excellent accent free English. In addition to casually learning, the schools there make language development a key plank in the education process.
Judy and me marching in a parade
"Knowing a language allows you to experience the world in a new way - not just making travel easier, but allows you to expereince the culture and insights of other cultures."
Women learning to read in a mountain village
By geography, the US is isolated on our east and west shores by great oceans- our neighbor to the north speaks English (and French in Quebec). Our best opportunity to experience another language to travel south to Central or South America.
A feast shared by friends
Also, over 37% of Californians are of Latino ancestry and in Los Angeles the proportion is much higher. In our cities and towns its useful to be able to read Spanish language signs, communicate with non English speakers, and to appreciate the Spanish language music and news that we encounter.
A clown called me up on stage to wear a red plastic nose
Judy and I love to travel. We have been fortunate to travel sevaral times abroad. Once, about 20 years ago, I had summer committments, so Judy went alone on a study trip centered in Cuernavaca Mexico. Each day speakers came in to talk about their area of special interest. Judy learned about the history, current politics, major social issues... and they went out on field trips to experience the realities of life in Mexico today.
Roast goat birthday party
She came home and said that while it was a wonderful learning experience - but she could never again be a dumb happy American tourist just staying in American style hotels and averting her eyes from the reality around her. In subsequent year we explored other part of the rich Mexican cultures.
Our friend teaching English
For us, experienced travellers that we were, we found Mexico to have rich and varied cultures - maintained its own wonderful unique qualities at a time when many countries of the world are losing these cultural individuality - tending toward a world mono culture. Not so much in Mexico - we are delighted with new experiences at every turn.
Making music as Atole is being made
In subsequent years we have returned to Mexico several times - visiting Oaxaca, returned to Cuernavaca, Chiapas, and the Yucatan. When possible we stay in simple accomodations - bed and breakfast style, the kind of places where local people might stay when they travel. We relish the variety of foods!
Street 'banda' music
I love the way that local people there assist me in speaking correctly. In Mexico when I make a mistake, the universal response was a gentle repeating what I meant to say... I have to pay attention to know that I have been corrected. We found people eager to get to know us, to assist us when we needed help. The kindness that we encounter touches us deeply.
Every night people gather in the zocalo ( central square ) to meet friends and to share time together
We found people hard working and inventive. Mexico has a challenging national economy - but it is slowly improving. The disparity between the rich and the poor is troubling.
Street Scene - Oaxaca
Along the way my Spanish is improving. My first efforts at teaching myself simple phrases had limited success. In Oaxaca we attended language schools with small classes and personal help... That helped my Spanish to improve greatly.
We travel in collectivos - communal taxis - they must stop at times to allow livestock to pass
At home I regularly review... But the next big leap for me was to start listening to Spanish language programming on my car radio- hearing Spanish spoken and sung I was able to strengthen my weakest skill which was listening and understanding.
I am still in the intermediate range of over-all language development but when we were in South America last summer for the first time in my life I felt that my communication skills had made a quantum leap forward. Learning a language is not easy for me - but I love being able to talk to people and understand them ...