Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Language Is Different; the Feeling Is Universal ; the Images That Appeal to Me Bring out Simultaneously the Individuality and the Universality of a Place and Its People

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Language Is Different; the Feeling Is Universal ; the Images That Appeal to Me Bring out Simultaneously the Individuality and the Universality of a Place and Its People

Article excerpt

Language is a funny thing, although "fun" isn't always the first word to come to mind when learning a new one. It is funny in the sense that it can be as revealing of the student as it is of the people and country where it is spoken.

I began a crash course in Spanish here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a few weeks ago and gained some insights of Mexico that were new to me, despite a number of trips I had previously taken to our southern neighbor. The experience also reminded me of why learning can be difficult for those of us who don't take naturally to embarrassment, humiliation, and rattled self-esteem.

Full of confidence after my first class, I marched into a cafe and girded myself for placing an order in Spanish. The waiter approached. I leaned forward on my elbows, took a deep breath, mentally repeating "Buenos dias, buenos dias," only to find my wayward tongue going its own direction.

"Adios," I said with beaming pride, signaling my departure before my chair was warm. "Ya?" ("Already?") he answered with a bemused smile, before politely asking me - in English - what I wanted.

Attitude, I have learned, is an important element in learning a new language. Confidence is essential, sort of like trusting one's body to make the right motion in athletics, momentarily forgetting the learned mechanics of a tennis stroke, golf swing, or jump shot.

But focus and concentration are also important. It is good to plow ahead and trust what you've learned, but it needs to be tempered with a calm grounding in what one actually knows. Go for it. Just don't overreach.

The experience here was rich with other, more pleasant, revelations. My time coincided with Mexico's Independence Day and its celebrations. The day of the major festivities, I was out at dawn prowling the streets of this fast- growing town, with its cobblestone streets, charming town square, and occasional pack mule along the side of the road.

It is my usual routine in any new place to get up early when the streets still belong to people, not cars, load my large old-school camera on my back, and search for revealing images. …

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