In an effort to save the money during my sabbatical in 2011 I stopped getting my nails done–at first opting to paint them myself and eventually not painting them at all. I can count on one hand the number of times color has covered my nails since then. ‘Tis a far cry from the spring day in my twenties when I told my mother I couldn’t try on sandals at the shoe store because my nails were, at the time, unpolished and as such didn’t look good in open-toed sandals
This all came back to me when I was looking at the offerings at the Hotel Spa Granada–the hotel where I study Spanish each morning. During my research prior to my trip, at least three sources recommended their spa–not just for their services but also for the price. And so it was that at 4 p.m. today I found myself in a half-underground room near the pool–the only air-conditioned place I’ve seen, let alone been in.
I opted for the special that included a manicure, pedicure and thirty minute massage for a mere twenty-four dollars (and I’m told this is the “expensive” place in town). My masseuse greeted me in Spanish. I explained I spoke a little of her language–that I was learning. We exchanged few words that first half-hour because I was blissfully relaxed as her oiled hands pushed into my tight traps.
It was a good thing we started with the massage, however, because as she ran her hands up and down my back, I thought of three things I could ask her in Spanish. And so it was that when I sat down for my manicure I began what would become a full hour conversation almost entirely in Spanish.
How long have you worked here? Do you live in Granada? Do you work five days per week?
As she filed my fingernails, I learned that Judith has spent four years working at the spa six days per week (from 9am to 6pm). And that problem in America where we study languages in high school and most of us come out of it not being able to speak a word? It happens in Nicaragua, too. Unable to speak English after studying it in high school, Judith took night classes at an English school and is able to practice by speaking to her clients. However, she told me she only speaks English if her client doesn’t know Spanish. For the first time in my life, that wasn’t me.
I told her this was my first time in Nicaragua and in Central American, and that today was my second day of studying Spanish. Judith was impressed with my conversational abilities after my whopping eight hours of one-on-one lessons. And frankly, so was I.
I don’t profess to be a master at learning languages–a mere hour after conversing with Judith, I searched for words at dinner without nearly as much success. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started teaching myself Spanish three weeks ago, it’s that the best practice is to speak–mistakes and all. It also helps to have a patient listener. And lucky for me, in addition to her skills as masseuse and beautician, Judith had that skill as well.