Remember: Don’t Break the Diphthongs!

On Friday night, after returning from a 7-day full Spanish immersion program in nearby Cuernavaca, I did one thing: sleep like a baby who just finished the longest temper tantrum of her life.

It’s been, oh, a good 8 years since I was in any sort of formal classroom setting on a regular basis, and wow, I didn’t miss it. I’ve occasionally thought about going back to school for a graduate degree, and this pretty much solidified my conviction that no mames, I’m not going back. I like the working world too much, since it’s highly unlikely that on an average Monday, I’m not going to be yelled at by teachers for breaking diphthongs or for forgetting the present progressive tense of the “helping” verb haber. I also don’t ever have homework.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy immersion. I really did. Before we left, I would have put my fluency at about 10%. Now it’s up to 25%. While that means I still have 75% of the language to go, it only took one week of immersion to get me from 10 to 25%, while it took six months of weekly tutoring (two classes at night) to get me from 0 to 10%.

Going back to school at 31 years old had the added dream-like strangeness of my spouse sitting next to me the entire time. We tested in the same level, so we were in every single class together, and because we stayed with a local family, and had no transportation or much spare time or freedom at all, we spent basically every moment of the entire 7 days right next to each other — and I mean shoulder-to-shoulder right next to each other.

Which, most of the time, was a good thing, except when I patted him on the back (forgetting we were sitting in a classroom) or, conversely, scolded him for not knowing common verbs like deber. (“What?!? How could you not know that?” I chided him, followed by laughter from our classmates.)

Of course, now that I’m back to living in Mexico City, and working most of the day editing documents in English, I’ve probably dropped down to 18% (and counting) fluency. Vamos a ver, I guess.

Some highlights of the immersion:

  • Going on a tour with other students to the ruins of Xochicalco and fake smiling when the other students (mostly undergrad college students) mentioned how rare it was for them to hang out with people “our age.”
  • Watching telenovelas with our host family each night. The language was basic enough that we could follow along, and the plotlines were hilarious enough that we kept wanting to watch.
  • Grinning and bearing it as the family’s abuelita referred to us as “los gueros.”
  • Getting in really dumb arguments about when to use por versus para.
  • Listening to funny stories from one of our teachers, Raul, who taught both the Shah of Iran and Leona Helmsley (former Cuernavaca residents.) He said the Shah was rather stupid, and that Leona only wanted to learn the command forms of the verbs, as in “callate.” (Shut up!)
  • Placing imaginary “estrellas de oro” on Brendan’s forehead when he won an argument.
  • Learning to use “no mames” y “guey more naturally.
  • Sweating the entire week, since air conditioning seems to be a foreign concept in Cuernavaca, even though the climate is like Houston on a July day.
  • Attending a music class and belting out “La Paloma Blanca” and “Besame, Besame Mucho

And, as normal in Mexico, we saw pretty things, like the town of Tepoztlan:


And we saw weird things, like this tree growing into a building at the Hacienda de Cortes:
And pretty weird things, like this toilet:

For more photos of our week in Cuernavaca, go here.

5 thoughts on “Remember: Don’t Break the Diphthongs!

  1. Wolkenfee says:

    I´m interested in a spanish course in Cuernavaca as well, that´s why I´m searching for people who already have made some experiences there. I would be very pleased if you could give me some informations like what was your language school´s name? How many hours per day did you have classes? How where the teachers? just things like that. Thanks a lot!

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