Here in Medellín, my mere existence becomes a Spanish lesson. Everywhere I look someone has left a bit of vocabulary for me. There are sentences written in the concrete and graffitied on the walls. In the states I never felt like I could practice my Spanish very consistently. Not because there aren’t Spanish speakers, there are of course many. Just, when the person I wanted to practice with spoke Spanish as well as English, as was usually the case, I would always end up just speaking my mother tongue. I needed to live somewhere with Spanish speakers that didn’t know English.
Envigado is a really good place to live for this. The workers in the area don’t encounter much English outside of school since their aren’t any hostels in the area. I have ordering food mostly down. I went and got a haircut after lunch the other day. I tried to communicate a bit, but then I just did what I would do anyway in the states and showed the guy a picture of what I wanted on my phone. As he cut my hair I got a chance to talk with him a bit. Where I’m from, do I have a girlfriend, am I on vacation, what do I think of Medellín? These are questions I get a lot and I think I’m going to have the answers memorized pretty soon. These everyday interactions are so invaluable to my progress as a Spanish speaker. It’s not like I’m reading Don Quixote, but it’s a start.
My first free Spanish lesson was right after we got into the airport. I talked to our driver the whole time, asking him whatever I could think of to say. I had the chance to learn a lot just forcing myself to ask him questions.
“Is the weather always so nice?” I knew that it was but it was a question I realized I could ask. “Are you from Envigado?”
“What is your favorite restaurant there?”
He was very welcoming, giving Caty and I our first bienvenidos, though not our last. The Paisa culture of the Antioquia region, of which Medellín is the Capitol, is famously friendly and welcoming. Most everyone will speak slowly or repeat themselves if you show you’re making an effort by trying to speak, though I find myself needing this less and less.
Chances to speak Spanish are unsurprisingly everywhere in Colombia. They are always right outside the window. I was paying $25 an hour for private lessons in the states, and it was the only time I got to speak Spanish with a native speaker all week. I get that here daily for free.
And now as I write this I hear a guitar strumming and the sound of singing. The voices are hopeful and strong. The harmony is spot on. The lead singer is heartbreaking. Their beatific rhythm is like a cathedral of sound that is building inside of me from the depths of their faraway song. For a moment they fade away to a spectral hum and are all but gone, but soon they return with another melody even more sweet and sad.