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


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.