To whom it may concern,
It is true that my grasp of your language is still rudimentary. My fluency has far outstripped my grasp of grammar and the range of my vocabulary, lending my ability to communicate an extremely bizarre but enthusiastic style. I know this. But please, Sir or Madam, do not for a moment mistake my infantile sentence structures and awkward pronunciations as an indication of my general intelligence. I am not an idiot. I am not in fact, incapable of comprehending what is going on, and being said around me. I may not grasp every individual word, but I understand a high enough percentage that combined with a functioning grasp of body language and tone, I am quite aware of what you are attempting to communicate. I assure you, that my inability to express myself in the fashion that I am accustomed is far more frustrating to me and my effusive personality, then it is to you, who are unaware of this verbose, English-dependent side of me.
Woman from the tienda with the good bread: You seem like a very sweet old lady, but there is no need to speak at a higher volume when I ask you if you could repeat something. I understand that this is a natural tendency for people of all language backgrounds when talking to a non-fluent person, such as I, but it is irritating and unnecessary. I only missed whether you said sesenta or setenta centavos. If you stopped projecting your voice across the room like a soprano and thought about it, you would probably agree that the two words are very similar, and that even if I was completely fluent, I would probably have needed you to repeat it due to your lack of a full set of teeth.
Man lurking at my favorite bar last Wednesday: My rebuffing of your advances was an indication of my lack of interest in associating with you or continuing to feign any interest in what you were saying. It was not an indication of any lack of understanding of your entreaties. I am in fact completely aware of what the colloquial usage of muñeca is and was not in need of further synonyms. The look I shot you was of exasperation and irritation, not one of query. In the spirit of slang and the exchange of language, let me offer you an appropriate anecdote. I recently taught some friends of mine the modern colloquialisms “tool” and “douchbag” as acceptable modes of insult that an American target of our age bracket would understand. Always useful when wishing to avoid the usual more vulgar, four letter varieties and their derivations. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Friend whom I helped home: It is true, I did say no te entiendo, but that was in reference to not understanding why you would think trés botellas de tequila is a reasonable explanation for your condition, not a reference to my lack of understanding of those particular words. I’m aware of your delusions that being latina allows you to drink tequila without consequences, but there are some serious flaws in your logic. For starters, tequila is Mexican and you are Ecuadorian. Then there’s the fact that you are woman, a small one at that, and while you and two of your friends do indeed equal three people, that should not lead you to conclude that each needs their own bottle. These are the things that I did not understand. My Spanish may be basic, but I didn’t have any trouble with the words themselves. Lets break it down. There’s trés. So far so good, I think anyone who’s watched even 10 minutes of Sesame Street would get that one. Then botella, which is not only remarkable similar to the word bottle, but in context of the next two words, becomes incredibly clear in the case that one happened to be thrown by the “ll” pronunciation. Yes, and then the final and keyword in the statement. Tequila. Yeah, I won’t be needing I dictionary for that one.
My students: Luckily for y’all, I actually like you and have a sense of humor, so am not actually offended by your teasing. But do wish to point out a few little things. Previous to arriving in this country, I had half-assed my way through a couple semesters of Introductory Spanish, which I promptly forgot all of in the 2 years that followed. What that means is that really, the only Spanish that I can actually speak right now was learned haphazardly, through emersion, occasional access to someone else’s dictionary, and google searches on what the hell the difference between para and por is, since no one here can explain it to me. Now, y’all are at the college level, taking an “advanced” Conversation class after what was, I can safely assume, years of English classes all throughout school starting when you were very young. Yes, it was very amusing when I said jamón instead of jabón. I myself couldn’t help laughing at the image of me rubbing ham all over my hands and wondering why they weren’t getting clean. Yeah, it was funny. And I’m sure I will continue to amuse you as the class continues. Just remember dear students, that the only reason I was miming washing my hands while saying jamón in the first place is because y’all didn’t know the difference between “soap” and “soup.”
Love and Regards
Abril (no, no cometí un error, yo sé que estoy deciendo. mi nombre es Abril, como el mes)
Original published June 30, 2001, on tumblr as “Sí, Yo Entiendo”.