Speaking English with a Spanish Accent


I had always thought that in order to travel outside the United States I would need to know a language not my own. I had been fearful about going to Mexico or Sweden because I only spoke English with a western accent. It would not do to be so unprepared. But as we grew older and less afraid we knew that the time had come to take the first step in the journey to the outside world, Spanish or no Spanish!!

So we set off to visit Mexico. We chose a spot along the Pacific Ocean called Ixtapa. That was about 12 years ago (give or take 5 years or so) and we were among the first visitor in that small community to fly directly from the United States without a stop over in Mexico City. Ixtapa was a newer village with lots of condo and hotels catering to tourist. Just 3 miles away a older fishing village bustled with the traditions of old Mexico and a taxi ride cost $3.00. Zihuatanajo boasted markets, small neighborhood restaurants with raised thresholds to keep out the rain and, as I remember it, dirt floors. When we stepped into one such cantina, a young boy was serving. He was anxious to practice his broken English. Pictures of the Washington Monument and Crater Lake lined the walls and it was here that I developed an “ear” for Spanglish, a mixture of English and Spanish.

There is melodic flow to English spoken with a foreign accent. But more importantly, in a countries where school children were being taught English in school, you needed to have an “ear” for how the English language is being spoken. I had made a real effort to learn some Spanish on that first Mexican vacation. But my best learning then, and in all the years that have followed, has happened when the Mexican and Spanish people have giggled or been cross with me over my mispronunciation of their language and the ability to speak English with a Spanish accent has served me very well. I do not worry, even in China, that I do not speak the language. We have found other ways to get about and in many case failed to get where we wanted to be. Language seems to come as you experience a country. A few word of Mandarin or Thai creep into our vocabulary. So in the end it is all about the journey…no matter what “language” you are traveling with.

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