Talk Spanglish to Me

Language was always my tool, my weapon, my security blanket. What happened when I lost the ability to use it?

Nicole Peeler
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readMay 9, 2019


Illustration: Seb Agresti

“E“Eoy caliente!” I proclaimed to the taxi driver taking me to my brand new digs in Granada, Spain. I had completed exactly one week of a Spanish Language Learner’s cassette tape before arriving in the country, and was very proud of my achievement.

He met my clear, 21-year-old eyes in the rearview mirror, amusement chasing alarm over his features. I assumed my accent was terrible. Only later would I learn I’d told him I was horny, rather than hot.

I laughed when my teacher, a Spaniard named Inma, later explained to me the very important difference between what I’d said and “tengo calor,” which is what I should have said. It was a slightly desperate laugh. Not because I was ashamed but because, after a few weeks in Spain, I was starting to panic about my inability to communicate. A voracious reader from a young age, language had long been my tool, my weapon, and my security blanket. People would like me if I made them laugh or feel good about themselves. I could defang enemies with a sharp verbal thrust. With a few deft sentences, I might help people understand the world as I understood it, and feel less alone.

I was shocked by how often I drew my gun, my beloved English language, now that it wasn’t loaded with the same meaning to those hearing it.

For the first few months, I communicated in Spanish like a belligerent toddler.




Even after months in Spain, I’d only improved to the level of a slightly less belligerent second-grader, one who clearly thought she was more clever than she proved to be.

“I HAVE MUCH FEELINGS ABOUT THIS THING!” I would announce. And then I’d realize I didn’t know the words for those feelings.

“MUCH FEELINGS!” I would repeat, sitting back in my chair to signal to my friends that no clarification would be forthcoming.

The miracle is that I did have friends, especially ones who spoke only Spanish.



Nicole Peeler
Human Parts

Novelist and essayist. Director of the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. Find out more at