Thursday, February 11, 2010

How I Learned to Speak Spanish

*I originally posted this story on my recipe blog, but I am posting it here for those of you who are curious as to how I learned to speak Spanish.  

*My Aunt Lidia and me on the ranch in San Luis, Sonora circa 1979

I am 1/4 Mexican, but I didn't learn to speak Spanish until the summer before my 5th birthday.  My grandmother had just married a man that spoke no English.  And I didn't speak a word of Spanish.  Seeing that Pappy and I were having trouble communicating, she took me to San Luis, Sonora, Mexico. (My grandmother was raised in San Luis.) She left me there with one of my aunt's and her family for three months so I could learn Spanish.  Talk about an immersion course!

One of Gramm's brothers, my Tio Ruben, was the only relative that spoke English.  He would stop by daily to see how I was doing and would give me a few pesos to buy dulces (candy).  I would voice all of my complaints and he would translate it to my Tia Lidia.

But Tio Ruben couldn't stay all day.  

The way I communicated with my relatives was through pointing.  I'd point to something, then my aunt or cousins would say the word for the object in Spanish.  If I pointed to the milk carton, my Aunt would say "Leche". 

Whenever I wanted a glass of milk, I would say leche.  But my aunt would then say, "Quiero leche."  At the time, I didn't know what that meant, but whenever I said it, I got a glass of milk. 

Being the genius kid that I was, I learned more and more Spanish everyday.

One morning, my Tia Lidia had prepared the best tasting breakfast I had ever tasted.  Remember I was only 4 years old!  I asked, "Que es?"  My aunt answered, "Chorizo con huevo."  I immediately asked for mas (more).  And spent the rest of the day singing "Chorizo con huevo" all day long.  I requested Chorizo con Huevo for breakfast every morning!

I couldn't wait to share my latest discovery with my Tio Ruben, but he had left San Luis for a couple of weeks.  With no one around to speak English with, my Spanish improved by leaps and bounds.

Two weeks passed and my Tio Ruben had returned from wherever he had been.  Before he could ask how I was doing, I said, "Tio Ruben, me das veinte pesos para comprar huevos y chorizo?"  (Uncle Ruben, can I have twenty pesos to buy eggs and chorizo?)

Tio Ruben laughed and was very happy that the little gringa was finally speaking Spanish.  I didn't speak a word of English for the rest of my stay.

And that ladies and gentlemen is how I learned to speak Spanish!

With Love,


  1. Leslie,
    I didn't learn Spanish until I was 52. When I came to Mexico to work at the request of a Mexican company in January of 1999 the only place that I could find to stay in the little town where I was working was in the parish house at the invitation of two local priests. Only one problem. They spoke no English and they wouldn't let me eat until I recited the Lord's prayer in Spanish. That was quite an incentive to learn :)

  2. Great story! Thanks for sharing it! It also answered many of my questions!



  3. My first 5 years of life were spent in Northern California. During that time I attended at a pre school that taught spanish for 1/2 the time and english the other half. Mom says I was pretty good at it until we moved to Montana, where all they spoke was cowboy.

  4. Your story is sooo adorable. Waaaaay better than mine. I learned spanish selling dildos and adult paraphanilia here in Mexico. Wish my experience could have been a bit more like yours. :)

  5. Cool story ... could have used a little more mixed culture in my youth

  6. Looks like i shall be sending my nino's to abuelas casa for a few months...hey great idea!

  7. BOB: I'm sure you learned Spanish very quickly!

    PALOMA: If you have anymore questions, just let me know!

    CHRISSY: Going to a bilingual school must have been fun! Maybe Spanish will be much easier for you to learn now.

    REFRIED DREAMER: I'm sure you know many more colorful words than I do. :D

    SUNSHINE: It worked for me! :D

  8. Stopping by from SITS and wishing you a great day :)

  9. I love this story so much I read it all the way through even though I already read it on the other blog. Leslie you are an amazing person with an amazing life Im so glad you are keeping a blog.

  10. Wow! That is one way to learn Spanish! I was suppose to move to McAllen, TX which is near the border and was going to learn Spanish to you know...communicate.

  11. I was looking for a recipe to make chile in a molcajete and your site came up.I really like the story of el rancho. I too grew up in LA at a time where no one spoke spanish except at home. My parents were from Toluca. The el rancho story reminds me about a trip I took to my cousins ranch in the state of Guerrero. We had to climb a hill about 1/2 mi from the road. It had no electricity,water from a well, and foods were prepared as you do.I especially loved how they prepared cheese. My daughter, who was 4 then, had one of the best times. She played with the other children and rode a burro "que rebusanba". At night the stars in the sky were so magnificant and the songs this family sang with each playing an instrument. We caught up with the hustle bustle of life and forget these wonderful time.You are very fortunate to still have this.
    Electra Estrada

  12. What a great story, ¡me encanta!

    And that's a beautiful photo, it must bring back great memories.

  13. Hi Leslie, what a great story! It is a perfect example of how parents/relatives can teach Spanish to there children. Me encanta, tambien! I would love to re-post this on my sight please let me know I'd this would be okay:

  14. Wonderful story, and necessity is the motherhood of it all.

    I learned it b/c my grandmother spoke no english, and we needed to talk to her..she lived with us!!

  15. I fell in love with your blog instantly. The SITS cocktail hour went too fast for me so I'm just now exploring at my own pace. You, my dear, are an inspiration...really, I can't wait to read more!

  16. That is a great story!!! I am just in awe and writhing with envy! ;) I've been speaking Spanish with my daughter, and while she does's like pulling teeth to get her to actually speak more than two words in a I am so excited about the idea of possibly taking her to Mexico in the future for an immersion intervention...and for me and the hubby too! I love your story!

  17. Leslie, you have me laughing 8) that is so cool! I try to do the same with my daughter, I'll send her to Mexico for summer vacation so she can grasp the language better.
    I love your page.

  18. Hi Leslie,
    I just stumbled across your blog and am loving it :) I learned spanish as a child through summer immersions in Mexico City. Did you ever get teased for not being able to roll your "R's" very well? I opted for synonyms  -- Coche instead of carro, tren instead of ferrocarril! I'm thinking of taking my kids to Mexico to learn Spanish the same way -- Hopefully they'll pick it up quickly. Do you speak English at home with your kids?