Spanish Language Tape Land

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about learning to speak Czech. I had tried to learn a little before leaving Australia, diligently listening and re-listening to all ten units of Pimsleur’s Speak and Read Essential Compact Czech, obediently repeating the phrases as I was told to, doing my best to get the accent and pronunciation right, memorising as much as I possibly could. Then, I flew to Prague.

Unfortunately, the conversations the tapes were teaching me usually went something like this:

Woman: Excuse me, do you speak English?
Man: No.
Woman (pointing at a building): What is that?
Man: This is the national theatre.
Woman: Thank you.

Or, this:

Man: Good day.
Woman: Good day.
Man: Excuse me please, is this a post office?
Woman: No, this is not a post office. This is a restaurant.
Man: Tell me please, where is the post office?
Woman: The post office is over there.
Man: Okay. Thank you.

When I got to the Czech Republic, I found that not many conversations actually proceeded this way.

“Good Day,” I would say to the people in the shops.
“Good Day,” they would reply, before saying something dense and complicated in rapid Czech.
“Uhh…” I would say.

This made it difficult when what I really wanted to communicate was something like: “Do you have baking soda? I want to make some banana bread, you see, and I don’t know if there is any such thing as baking soda in the Czech Republic. And even if there was, I don’t know what would be written on the label because everything’s in Czech, and they didn’t really prepare me for things like needing baking soda on my Czech tapes…”

Or, when I went to the doctor’s, something like: “So I’ve got asthma – everyone’s got asthma in Australia. But, see, I’ve had this really bad cough since I got here, and it’s probably the cold weather and everything – my lungs aren’t really being used to negative 14 – but it doesn’t seem to be going away and I’d like to avoid antibiotics if that’s possible. So I was hoping maybe you could help me out?”

So I was just sick for a long time instead.

What the Czech tapes got right, though, and what I didn’t even realise they were preparing me for, were some particulars of Czech culture. Czech Language Tape Land is a strange, desolate place, where people often say “No” to each other or cut off conversations prematurely. People are constantly asking for directions to restaurants but I don’t think they ever actually eat anything, or even ever sit down. They just kind of stand around in the cold, pointing at monuments and asking what things are, formally introducing themselves and their colleagues, telling each other they speak Czech well. Everyone says goodbye a lot. “Goodbye,” one person will say with a sigh. Short pause. “Goodbye,” the other person will say.

Admittedly, this wasn’t an entirely accurate representation of what Czech people were like, but after being there for a while I was able to draw some pretty funny parallels.

Anyway, I’ll be road-tripping my way down to Mexico in a few weeks, so now I’m learning Spanish. The internet has generously provided me with three levels of thirty units each of Pimsleur’s Speak and Read Essential Spanish, which is about 45 hours of Spanish lessons. I try to complete at least one unit every day – two on weekends – often in the car driving to and from work. They specifically request you don’t complete the reading section of the units while driving, so I do that bit at home.

On the surface, they are quite similar in content to the Czech tapes. “Excuse me,” I say in Spanish to the traffic. “Where is the restaurant?” Or, “Good evening. It is nice to meet you. I am Mr. Jones. I am from North America.”

In Spanish Language Tape Land, however, they definitely eat. They tell each other they want to eat, and then they  go off somewhere to eat, and then they change their minds and decide they want to drink instead, so they go to order beer and then complain about the price. They are constantly pooling their money and then spending what little they have in restaurants and bars, asking the other people around them how many pesos or dollars they might have. The Spanish speakers are over-friendly to the North Americans, who then get all uncomfortable and tell them they don’t understand Spanish. The men flirt with the women and the women cleverly and snidely rebut the men. My favourite conversation so far, has been this one:

Man: Miss, where is the Bolivar Hotel?”
Woman: It’s down there, sir.
Man: And the Restaurant Columbus?”
Woman: It’s here.
Man: Thank you miss. I am Mr. Jones.
Woman: Glad to meet you, sir.
Man: And you. Are you Miss Gomez?
Woman: No sir. I’m not Miss Gomez. I’m Mrs. Gomez. Goodbye sir.
Man: Goodbye Mrs. Gomez.

I’m very much looking forward to going to Mexico.

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4 Responses to “Spanish Language Tape Land”


  1. 1 James Clarkson November 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Ha, I tried Vietnamese tape land. My favourite phrase was “I don’t understand”. It never taught me phrases such as “I would like dinner” so I stayed hungry. I looked at the Thai tapes and their titles are all “How to flirt in Thai” and “Thai for meeting a wife”.

  2. 3 stivbarron November 17, 2011 at 2:04 am

    It was a great man who once said “Let’s went to Mexico!”

  3. 4 nina February 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    hahah brilliant, copy and paste straight to my travel section!


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