Hal and the boys are teaching English at a nearby volunteer school. They go twice a week: once teaching adults, once teaching teens. The adults are easier just because they show up voluntarily. The teens have been coerced by either parents or school so are pretty disinterested in mastering English. All they really want to do is eat candy, drink soda, text message and flirt. The only English they care to learn are the bad words. Sounds like a bunch of gringo teens to me.

In the last adult class, Hal was teaching how to order a coke. He wrote it on the board and asked them to read it. Coke came out cock. Hal had to explain that cock is "lo mismo de pene pero más vulgar"… like saying penis only more vulgar. This got a huge laugh, of course. That Hal, he’s a funny guy. Too bad the teens missed it.

The real challenge is ordering shrimp. Any word that starts with the "shr" sound is flat out impossible for native Spanish speakers. "Sh" is hard enough. Add an "r" and it’s ridiculous. Apparently, tongues and lips and entire faces were screwed up to a fare-thee-well. Fortunately, shrimp is rarely on the menu. And how often do you say shrub, shrew and shrug?

Learning Spanish is hard. Just mastering the verb endings and the gender makes me nuts. Everything has a gender: tables, chairs, the sky, birds, fingers, nuts. Whenever I have to make up a sentence on the spot, I invariably get the gender wrong just because I’m trying too hard. I mean, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll screw it up. Even when I’m talking about myself: "Yo soy rubio." I am blonde. Since I’m a woman, I would be rubia, ending with an a… Hal would be rubio (if he had any hair). But I can’t think that fast. I’m so thrilled to remember the word for blonde and the verb for I am (soy), by the time I get to sorting out gender, the sentence is out of my mouth and I’ve confirmed my gringo-hood beyond reasonable doubt.

But learning English… English is really hard. Spanish has few dipthongs. Vowels and consonants, as a rule, have one sound and one sound only. Other than words beginning with "h", there are almost no silent letters. If a letter is there, it has it’s own sound. If there are two vowels or two consonants together, they each have their own unique sound. Even the rules in Spanish are simple and relatively few.

But English. Explain how light and lite are pronounced the same. Explain cough. To a Spanish speaker, it’s pronounced co-ooog. Take them from co-ooog to cawf. The rules in English? Oy vey, where do you begin? After just a few weeks teaching English, learning Spanish seems like the easy way out. Next time you meet a native speaker of another tongue who is speaking any English at all, show some respect. They’ve earned it.

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