Off to Mexico and My Spanish is Subpar

by Stefan Slater

And once again, I’m back on the road.

But this time, instead of driving 200-something miles north, I’m flying some 1,500 miles south to my cousin’s wedding in Puerta Vallarta. It’ll be fun too: It’s a genuine Mexican wedding, which means there will be music, food and a steady supply of booze made readily available until the wee hours of the morning—even my aunt (who’s in her early 80s) still drinks. Last time I saw her, we shared a bottle of Baileys together, and somehow I was the one who ended up a little sloshed. Which means one of two things: My 80-something aunt can still drink like a sailor on shore leave or I have the alcohol tolerance of a field mouse that doesn’t like confrontation. I feel a little torn here.

On a separate point, I also feel like I should clarify my previous paragraph a bit… no, no, not the part about my aunt… I’m talking about the “Mexican” nature of the wedding. You see: it’s a bona-fide Mexican wedding because everyone in the wedding is, in fact, Mexican—the whole venue will be chock-full with mi familia, and there will be more tias, and tios, and primos than I can count.

Which also means, that yes, I’m also Mexican.

Well, only half, actually: My father is from Cleveland, Ohio. (Diversity’s always a good thing.)

Anyway, for reasons that are beyond my control, I will be traveling alone to this wedding, which isn’t a bad thing. My family down there is very friendly—and they drink, too, so the friendly factor always goes up a notch at these kinds of events.

However, and this brings me to the heart of the matter, this particular wedding presents a unique linguistic challenge for me. Despite being a writer that… uh, deals in words of the English variety all day long, my ability to speak other languages is rather minimal.

In short, my Spanish is terrible.

It’s something that’s embarrassed me in the past, actually. I’d like to be better at it (my mother is from Mexico, after all), but I’ve never really practiced. My mom isn’t exactly the most easy-going of Spanish teachers—it’s not her fault; she has that Spinal Tap “it goes up to eleven” sort of energy level and she has some difficulty being patient—and my extended family doesn’t believe in the phrase, “mas despacio, por favor.” And, yes, I did take Spanish in high school and college, but it didn’t really stick: Star Wars trivia and comic book info replaced most of it, unfortunately.

So, here I am, on the day before I leave for Mexico, and I’m faced with the issue of not having the best grasp on the local language.

I ask you, Denizens of the Internet, what sort of advice do you have for me on being more confident with my Spanish? I have some basic knowledge, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty everyday stuff, I’m a little lost.

I’ve made a promise to myself to try to speak with my aunts, uncles and cousins in Spanish a bit more (no one really speaks English and I need to be social on an occasion like this), but does anyone have any advice on carrying that out? Should I listen to Spanish music on the way down there? Should I watch Sábado Gigante on YouTube? Does anyone know what to do? Anyone? Bueller?

I’d appreciate any and all help that you can offer. I’m looking forward to the trip, and I’m eager to learn a little more Spanish. Wish me luck!