I remember, before the pandemic, I had a Spanish speaking patient who yelled at me the entire shift as if I knew Spanish. If I started dialing the phone to use the phone translator, she’d swipe the phone from my hand and said (in Spanish), you don’t need that! you understand! you can understand me! Of course, I couldn’t quite understand her, but I managed enough understanding (along with frantic and exaggerated hand motions) to move the table just so, arrange the bed to her desired height, set the bedside commode an inch higher than it was, to comb her hair and sweep it up into a chignon, and order her some lunch. After that shift, I was like – I kind of wish all my Spanish speaking patients did that. I would learn so much faster.

If I ever do learn Spanish, it will be because of Ana. Because on my first try of looking for a Spanish language exchange partner, I found Ana who lives in Cabo san Lucas, Mexico. Both of us beginners in each other’s native language, we’ve stumbled through almost a year of 30 minute sessions about 4-5 times a week, exchanging English one night and Spanish another night. We’ve spoken about our families and routines and vacations and neighbors using the simplest of vocabulary. She’s a dedicated student which encourages me to be a dedicated student as well.

The other thing I do is spend a bunch of time listening to full speed Spanish podcasts. Sometimes I listen to podcasts that are geared towards language learners, but just as often, I listen to podcasts which are meant for native speakers to get the rhythm of the language.

I’ve also tried paid teachers, I had one who lived in Ireland and now I have a new one who lives in Trinidad-Tobago who is in school to be a nurse. It’s an interesting adventure, I still can’t really say much and get tongue tied trying to talk. I still can’t quite understand quick exchanges I hear all the time at the hospital when people speak more quickly and probably more idiomatically and through laughter, yelling or whispering.

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