Opinion: A different word for everything


Mary Ellen and I are going to South America this fall and we decided we both should learn a little Spanish. I ordered some language CDs but was having serious problems memorizing the vocabulary, so I got a stack of sticky notes and labeled everything in the house, like the chair (la silla), the table (la mesa), the door (la puerta) and the mirror (el espejo).

In Spanish, nouns are identified as masculine or feminine. This confounded me in high school and accounted for my low grades. The teacher said I had some gender confusion, which was the last thing I needed to hear right before I asked Darla to the senior prom.

When Mary Ellen got home and saw the notes, she wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t as ticked off as our cat (el gato) Angel, who kept walking in circles because of the sticky note on her tail.. Angel also was unhappy to learn that “el gato” is a masculine noun. I tried to explain to her that there wasn’t a neuter pronoun, but that brought back a lot of bad memories for her.

At breakfast, Mary Ellen and I compete to see who is making the most progress, but we are using different learning aids, like when we took dancing lessons and we each had our own teacher. We were dynamite with our own instructors, but dreadful together.

I realized Mary Ellen was only memorizing expressions that had practical value for her on the trip, like, “Ricardo, quiero ir a una tienda con ropa exclusiva.” I later found out this meant: “I want to go shopping at an exclusive clothing store.” 

My only retort was using words I learned the previous night: Mi elefante tiene dos hermanas (My elephant has two sisters.) I think my wife will be able to employ her language skills better than I will.

Mary Ellen and I have been having a lot of fun learning a new language. However, we do have one concern. In a happy marriage like ours, the phrase, “And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” should not be uttered in every conversation.

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