Just like the removal of an “r” can turn the innocent, everyday English “shirt” into an inappropriate word for a bodily function, it can also make the difference in Spanish between a cute little dog and an insurance claims adjustor.
They say that immersion is the best way to learn a language, mostly because it forces you to speak said language for much longer periods of time over many more consecutive days, surrounded by many more native speakers in a way that a classroom setting just can’t provide. But it’s also because it forces you into situations that bring with them vocabulary that never appeared in your textbooks, and consequences for misunderstanding much graver than a lower mark on a test.
As both a language teacher and a language learner, I can vouch for that. No matter how much I tried to expose my students to real life vocabulary and authentic English materials, there are things that just don’t come up, or don’t stick, until you’re living in a language.
Since moving to Madrid, I learned how to say security deposit (fianza) when I hunted for an apartment, bank branch (sucursal) when I opened a checking account, and to discharge from a hospital (dar de alta) when a friend got sick. Words like bobby pin (horquilla), tow truck (grúa), frosting (glaseado), and the chorus of a song (estribillo), among dozens more, have cropped up along the way.
Having been here for two years, the learning curve has certainly leveled out, but just as with any topic, it will never quite flatten completely. Just last week, I learned the word perito. Not perrito (little dog), or perrito caliente (hot dog), but perito. One r. Also known as the guy who came to assess the damages from the flooding we’ve been dealing with in our apartment for several months. Thanks to common sense, context clues, and the Internet, I never actually thought that the insurance company was sending a small canine to look at my leaking ceiling, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t get hit with an image of a little barking pup when the man in the suit and hard hat showed up on my doorstep.
Morals of the story? A. A little r can go a long way. B. We’re all lifelong learners. And C. Enjoy said learning.