I booked a flight today. To Nicaragua. I leave on Thursday.
Why? Well, I’m about to start teaching at a college. In New York state. Where it’s cold. The last winter I was here I realized the best way to survive was to head south for a spell. In January. And February. And March, too, if possible. (Thus is why I simply moved south the following year and never imagined spending another winter in the northeast. Never say never.)
The semester starts in fifteen days. So if I wanted to get my January thaw in, it was time to act.
Michael and I flirted with the idea of Grand Cayman. But for various reasons abandoned the idea. “For the money we’d spend going there, I could go learn Spanish,” I said, having recently come across a site I’d found last year for a language school. “I’m more a learning-vacation type, anyway,” I said.
I realize I don’t have to go to a country to learn its language. But if you can, why not? And if that country has ninety degree weather right now, well, sign me up.
Why Spanish? Well, I’ve always thought I’d love to speak another language. Fluently. My French and English allow me to communicate with lots of people when I travel. So when considering which language to work on, my first thought was to improve my French.
But then I thought of the jobs I’ve wanted that required Spanish fluency. And Spanish is a darn good language to know if living in the US. Or traveling south of its border. Then there’s the Camino. English and French allowed me to speak with a good number of fellow pilgrims as we walked across northwest Spain, but I was often at a loss when it came to speaking to the innkeepers and other locals.
“Oh, but what about Italian?” I thought next. The language of (some of) my ancestors. Oh, how I love Italy. I’ve hit the major cities, the Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast. But if I’m going to continue my genealogy research, I’ll soon be headed to the south of that country where English is not spoken nearly as widely.
So I debated. And debated. And then got stricken with paralysis by analysis.
Until I rediscovered Benny, the Irish Polyglot. A polyglot, I learned, is someone who speaks many languages. Benny went from being the guy who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish (after living in Spain for six months) to being able to pick up enough of any language to be conversational–in a few hours.
His advice for how to choose which language to learn was this: pick the one you want to be able to use next. For me, that’s Spanish. Most every trip I’ve taken abroad is to Europe. And if I had to guess where I’d go the next time I’m over there, I’d bet money I’d be back on the Camino.
Yes, I realize Latin American Spanish is different from Spain Spanish, but my goal at this point is just to be able to converse and be understood. And I’m pretty sure knowing any Spanish is better than none.
So I’m off. In 72 hours I’ll be living with a Nicaraguan family with whom I can barely communicate. I’ll take a few hours worth of Spanish lessons each day. And hopefully, by the time I say good-bye to my hosts, we’ll have had some great conversations. Wish me luck.