Learning Spanish – V1.0

Communication in Santiago has become an art form for me with my limited (mucho poquito) Spanish. Initially I used my eyes more than I used my ears to figure out how mouths produced sounds that I heard as music. I strained to read people’s facial expressions and gestures to figure out what they may be talking about. Sometimes I’ve just asked and other times people have come to my rescue with patient translations and even a hand-drawn map when I couldn’t understand directions verbally! More often than not the people I’ve met have been so eager to help me learn, not only their language but also about their history, traditions and identity.

A great example is the painstaking lesson on pololos y pololas by a member of my host family – which in Chilean slang, comes from Mapudungun, and means boyfriend/girlfriend. This impromptu lesson evolved into an explanation of the grammar of love, an easy classification of masculine and feminine nouns (o=male, a=female), the difference between expression of “levels of love” – who to say te quiero to and who is deserving of te amo, and the ways relationships have evolved over time in Chile. I could just as easily have learned about the etymology and application of pololo online – but that would not have led to me having a new friend in Chile!

Another example is the connections I made in the bustling Centro Artesanal Santa Lucía – the woman I bought my earrings from was able to accurately interpret my enthusiasm as wanting to know more about the copper earrings I was buying, so she showed me a block of stones with the minerals that were embedded in them. A young couple who I was asking a pair of traditional onyx statues shared how they had traveled to Jaipur, Mumbai, Varanasi, and Agra last year and loved my country. A bookstore owner inquired where I was from and on learning that I’m Indian told me how Chileans have increasingly been drawn to Indian philosophy, much beyond the usual fad yoga obsession because chilenos necesitan espiritualidad en sus vidas hoy en día.” Of course I’ve had some communication faux pas as well. Consider the following exchange – ordering coffee the other day:

Akansha: Un café por favor.

Barista: ¿Espresso o regular?

Akansha: Sí.

Needless to say, I got the opposite of what I wanted.

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