I am bilingual. I know Spanish and English. I like to think that I speak, read, and write two languages very, very fluently. However, I always have the vague feeling that I don’t communicate like a native speaker in either language. Sometimes people tell me that I speak English with an accent, which I don’t doubt at all.
As I was driving through to Mexico to visit my family, I had no trouble communicating with anyone. Except at the border where I applied for an auto permit to drive in Mexico. The clerk asked me something that I didn’t understand. She repeated it three times, but I understood everything she said, except for one word. She asked if I drove a Pontiac. But she pronounced Pontiac in Spanish and I didn’t recognize it. Finally, her colleague pronounced Pontiac in English and I understood. This taught me that I had to adjust my way of listening since I would be listening to different dialects.
Once I reached Celaya, I had no trouble communicating with anyone. I met my family and we understood each other perfectly. Ditto for my relatives in Mexico City. They mentioned other family members who had come from the U.S. who spoke no Spanish at all. However, a few relatives discreetly mentioned my accent, of which I have always been painfully aware. I wanted to buy some Mexican T-shirts for my sons at the mercado and my cousin told me to be quiet and she would do the haggling. If they heard me speak, they would think I was tourist and we wouldn’t get a good price. On the one hand, I had an American accent, but on the other, several people mentioned that I spoke Spanish extremely well. Well, that’s me to a tee. I abound in paradoxes. I speak Spanish with an accent, but very well. A few people mentioned that I stuttered through plenty of conversations while speaking Spanish. I pointed out that I stutter in English, too. But I was very happy that I could communicate in Spanish in Mexico!