It’s one thing to practice Spanish in the privacy of my bedroom each night, it’s another to try to speak it in front of people.

I got so nervous just asking my nieces what they would like to drink. I know red wine is vino tinto, but I said vino rojo. Then I got more flustered by saying y (and) instead of o for or. They were sweet and encouraging as we got through the beverages. Good thing I was not offering many choices.

I think I have the difference down between taza and vaso. The former would be used with coffee, as in a cup of coffee, while the latter is with wine, as in a glass of wine. I remember at a restaurant in La Paz, Mexico, the bartender trying to explain this to me, but the language barrier was too great.

This week marks 365 straight days that I have been trying to learn Spanish through the Duolingo app. The amount of time spent on the app is totally dependent on the learner. Some weeks I only total an hour, and often it’s not much more than that. Clearly, the learning is going to be slow at this level of engagement.

Nonetheless, early on I was able to use my limited Spanish when I traveled back from Baja to the States in March. At one of the military checkpoints an officer asked what various things in the Jeep. He pointed to my backpack on the floorboard of the passenger side. He said something, but I corrected him, saying, “Mi computadora.” Until I started with Duolingo, I didn’t know the Spanish word for computer.

I was bringing a painting from one friend to another. It was all securely packaged and not identifiable. That brought a lot of interest by the guard. Una pintura, I said. “Una pintura?” he asked quizzically. I said si, and gestured as though I was painting.

While I’m no longer living in Baja, I know one day I’ll be back. The locals make it easy for gringos to use English. While I tried speaking Spanish on occasion, I failed so often that I stopped trying.

But I know I could use Spanish in the U.S. as well. Being multilingual is never a bad thing. I certainly have greater appreciation for people who speak broken English. I understand how hard it is to learn a language and still get everything else done in a day.

One time I was at a store in Baja trying to buy something. I read Google Translate from my phone to say what I needed. The clerk looked at me like that isn’t English or Spanish, what the heck does this woman want. So, I showed her the phone. She smiled, and went to get what I needed. I asked her to pronounce what it was that I wanted. Oh, geez, no wonder she didn’t think I was speaking Spanish. My annunciation was so horrible.

What I like about Duolingo is that it involves reading, writing, listening and speaking. There is a ton of opportunity for review. No moving on to the next lesson without passing the first one. There are some competitive aspects as well—from timed lessons, to competing with friends (or just seeing how they are doing), to earning badges.

I will be happy just learning the present tense and cross my fingers people understand what I’m trying to say. After all Spanish has 14 tenses. English has 12. I’m guessing I use them all; I just couldn’t tell you each one. You can find them on the internet if you are so inclined.

Adios mis amigos, hasta luego.

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