A DASH OF PURA VIDA
The best way to learn a language is to go out there and try, stumble, brush off and try again. Language is in the doing of each moment, every chance you get. It starts with the simplest of moments, at the checkout or at a restaurant. Look your server in the eyes, smile and say, “Hola,” “Buenas” or “Buenos días,” all of which express the same sentiment. Be bold and try “¿Cómo está?” but try not to panic when the person you are greeting smiles and replies, “Todo bien,” “Gracias” or
“Pura vida,” which will likely happen 99 percent of the time. Do this whenever you go out and you'll find people are friendlier and more patient with you than if they were only addressed in English.
Constantly try to change up your phrases, so your interactions don't become robotic and artificial. “Pura vida” is your go-to phrase; not since “Shalom” has there been such a well-rounded expression. Pura vida expresses so much about the Costa
Rican people, culture and way of life. Although it literally means “pure life,” pura vida is a salutation when you are arriving, just passing or leaving. It can also be a suggestion or a proverbial chill pill — a reminder that ‘all around, life is popping and happening and your petty worry is no match for its greatness, so relax and look around' — all rolled in those two words. Once pura vida enters your realm, you too can sit for 30 minutes at the bank and enjoy the moment … play with your smartphone and look up phrases to use on the unsuspecting teller. Pura vida can be used liberally and often; when all words fail, they will get you a smile every time.
How you listen when learning Spanish is also incredibly important. You are not listening for complete comprehension, or not even 50 percent comprehension. Your goal is to understand more and more of what you are hearing each time.
Don't just focus on the words, but look at the bigger picture. Factor in the tone, mannerisms, expressions and any other cue that allows you to understand what someone is saying. Just take a deep breath and think, “Pura vida, anywhere I go people will be late for any appointment I make, so I am not in a hurry either!”
This, my northern friend, is your new mantra. The important thing is be present, in the moment, using all your senses to understand whatever possibly mundane concept is being expressed. Take wild guesses and giant leaps of faith. What's the worst that can happen? You laugh at yourself! In many cases, you will make a new friend who will engage with you each time you see each other again. The two of you will share an inside joke, which looks super cool when your friends come to visit.
As emphasized previously to Howler readers, the human brain is amazing. The more you engage, the more it creates connections and the more you learn with increasing speed. With language learning being a whole-brain activity, there is nothing better … no formula supplement or pill more effective at keeping your brain healthy. If you think that daily walk on the beach is good for you, just add a stop here and there to engage in Spanish for a super brain boosting workout. To grow your vocabulary, read one of the local bilingual newspapers or pick up a book at Jaime Peligro's. Watch the news in Spanish, or a soap opera, movie or show you have already seen in English, or listen and sing along to Spanish tunes. Join a class or get a tutor if you want to advance your level of understanding.
But nothing beats getting out there and engaging.
Not since “Shalom” has there been such a well-rounded expression.