Mezcal and Spanish reference booksI’m on the cusp of the mid-point in my intensive Spanish language immersion program in Oaxaca, and I’m moving again toward improvement. That’s a weekend and two class days after my spectacular crash and burn last Friday. I’ve been warned that the progress trajectory when learning a language is never a perpetual straight line upward. There are bumps in the road and deep valleys. I’m expecting another one soon, although everything seems to be going well this week. I’m also realizing that my original belief, that three weeks would make me fluent, was grossly unrealistic.

Still, I’m giving it the old college try. I’ve dropped my two hour cooking class for a two hour conversation class. Not that I’m not interested in Oaxacan cooking, but — knife, fork, spoon, avocado, chile? I have those words. I need new words. Boy, am I getting new words. My conversation class includes a woman who used to work in a McDonald’s deep in L.A.’s barrio, so she’s providing all the inner-city U.S. Chicano slang. We have two Australians who just got off the crew of a luxury yacht (where they taught Beyoncé how to water ski), so we’re learning all sorts of words for boat mechanics, water sports and luxury items. Maria, originally from Ireland, is great comic relief, especially since she gets the giggles when we call our teacher La Jefa. (She thinks it sounds like “heifer”.) Then there is a very nice young man, also from Ireland, who’s been keeping his distance from me since I told the class about my gun and how I planned to shoot turkeys.

Beyonce and my classmate

Here's my classmate, Reese, saving Beyoncé after a fall from a jet ski. Which has nothing to do with Spanish.

It’s a great and interesting group and our teacher keeps the conversation moving. But, to maintain the flow, she has to be somewhat careful about correcting us. The object of the session is to make sure we talk without getting too intimidated. So far, so good, but I need more. So I’ve signed up for a one-hour private tutoring session every day. Originally, my Intercambio partner, Carolina, was providing that, but her daughter is due any day now with her first child. After two sessions, she stopped showing up. But I’m guessing she’s got more important things going on than helping me with my Spanish.

Then there is my regular four hour class where, so far this week, I’ve had an oral exam which involved listening to a Gloria Estefan song twice through and writing down all the lyrics as she sings them. (A skill I’m sure will come in handy.) I’ve also had to make a presentation to the class on Mezcal — the history, the types, the methods of production and the Pueblas where it’s made. Also to be included was a class participation element. Well, I thought I had that nailed with a Mezcal tasting session. But I was in tough competition with classmate Roseanne whose subject was Oaxacan chocolate. She blindfolded each of us and gave us a taste test to see if we could distinguish between Oaxacan chocolate and Hershey’s. None of us failed. Oaxacan chocolate is that good!

Oaxacan mocha

Of course, I like my Oaxacan chocolate in my lunchtime mocha.

Tomorrow I have a grammar test and, on one day, I have to lead the class in our interactive conversation hour. That just gets me through Thursday! It doesn’t leave much time for sightseeing, which became impossible when we experienced an unbelievable downpour, Oaxacan style. Within three minutes, the streets were raging rivers and cars were spraying great fountains of water all over the sidewalk.

oaxacan rainstorm

Seriously. This was the scene only about five minutes into the rainstorm. We went from dry streets to small rapids.

When Oaxaca gives you rain, there’s only one thing to do. Grab your school books and head to the Cantina Where Everyone Knows Your Name. (Or at least they know my study partner, Sherry, and me by now from many two hour study sessions.)

studying spanish in a bar/coffeeshop

Liquid from the sky signals the need for a liquid study dinner: Chamoyadas and Coronas with peanuts!