A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Aprender Espanol, poco a poco! (Learning Spanish, little by little)

When we first decided to become ex-patriates in a Latin country, we had all the good intentions of knuckling down and at least learning some basic Spanish.  But with getting ready to move out of the country, with traveling to Mexico, Ecuador and Thailand, plus crossing the US three times in a ten month period, it just didn't happen. Fortunately, our many visits to Mexico over the years provided us with some rudimentary Espanol, enough to navigate airports, taxis , restaurants and ask a few basic "I need help" questions.

We finally arrived in Cuenca to live. Our first priority became securing permanent housing. We bought a house, a bed and some appliances and moved in to await the arrival of our container.  It, of course, got delayed.  Did we use that down time to brush up on our Spanish?  Nah, we just procrastinated again!  Once the container arrived, we got busy building our new lifestyle and settling in as residents.  We were the only gringos in our neighborhood.  We began to pick a little vocabulary here and there just from immersion into the neighborhood and osmosis as we traveled around the city.   It is a fact that Cuenca's openness to the gringo community and the significant number of locals who know some English make it easy to "get by" with a few basic phrases.  Ecuadorians are also very patient and gracious if you attempt to use the language and are very willing to help you learn.  We started picking up more vocabulary "poco a poco" (little by little) but, oh boy, what terrible grammar we had (and still do)!

Despite being strong advocates of learning the language (we advise every one of the newcomers who seek us out for advice "Learn Spanish!"), here we are a year and a half later,  still picking up our Spanish in bits and pieces.  However, we are now up to stopping on the street and chatting with friends and neighbors in THEIR language for sometimes as long as 3 to 4 minutes! We are making some progress, albeit, very slow and agonizing progress. We have since started some computer language learning programs.  That is helping and we plan to hire a home tutor in the near future.  Vocabulary is one thing, but we really need to improve our grammar and pronunciation.

Ecuadorians who have been in the US tell us the hardest thing about learning English was its heavy usage of idiomatic phrases with meanings different than the literal translation.   Actually, that can occur in Spanish, as well, and learning some of those subtleties can make a difference.

Roger during a recent stay in an Ecuadorian hospital.
I recently acquired knowledge of one such phrase during my first hospital stay in Ecuador.  We are fortunate that our primary doctor is fairly bilingual.   In the hospital itself, you will sometimes find a resident or intern on duty who is somewhat bilingual. Basic knowledge of at least one other language (although not always English) is somewhat common in the medical community here.  An occasional nurse will know a little English and if you are lucky, you may encounter a smattering of English at admissions or at the cashier upon checkout.   By and large, however, the hospital staff almost exclusively speaks Spanish.  That can present some challenges even if you have become fairly conversant in Spanish.  This is simply because you are talking about things not commonly referred to in everyday activity. If you go to the hospital, take your Spanish-English dictionary with you!    During my stay, I was actually pleasantly surprised at how well I was able to understand what the nurses were telling me and what they were asking of me. During one of my periodic checks by a shift nurse, I was able to tell her I had no pain, no nausea. I got her to tell me my blood pressure reading was and we even conversed about where in Cuenca each of us lived.   However the conversation suddenly reached a pregnant pause when she inquired:  "Señor, hizo un despositivo hoy?"   Huh???  I knew how the words translated:  "Did you make a deposit today?" However I was thoroughly confused as to the intent of her question.  Was it possible we were supposed to prepay part of our hospital bill and the nurse was calling attention to fact we hadn't done so?  I asked the nurse in my broken Spanish if my wife needed to visit the cashier downstairs when she came back to the room to see me.  My nurse giggled.... "No Señor...depositivo aqui (pointing to the bathroom)... en el bano!"

Oh my gosh, she was asking if I had had a bowel movement today!  (It was my turn to laugh!)

"Si, Senora, yo hecho un grande depositivo...un grande boom-boom!"  This time, we both giggled!

And so it goes.....until the tutor arrives, we will probably continue to pick up some more Spanish, poco a poco, as we continue our journey juntos en el camino de la vida.


  1. Very funny, Roger. Especially, the "grande boom, boom"; and all this time I thought it was just the everyday sound of Cuenca fireworks.

  2. We had to purchase a plunger to unclog the toilet. My husband was trying to pantomime the motions for what he needed and the man at the hardware store brought out a shovel. In desperation he said, "no, caca larga." We could hear the girls in the back snickering. Great story, Mary