Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Can I be your Friend?

I’m discovering there are a lot more Colombian English speakers than I had previously thought. I mean your average upper-class, private university educated Colombian probably speaks better English than me. These people don’t surprise me, it’s the random security guard/cashier/chicle vendor that jump out at me when they recognize my accent and start speaking to me in English.

I met Javier the security guard (somewhat ironically) at the San Javier MetroCable. I asked for directions and to my delight he mistook me for one of the Uruguayan visitors to the South American Games. After learning I was from the US he practiced his surprisingly good English for about an hour as we talked about life there. At the end, he asked for my number, as he didn’t have money for and wanted to be able to call to practice his English. I told him I wasn’t a good teacher but he could call me anyways. He then called three times a week for the next month at times ranging from 7am to 9am in the morning before I finally cut him loose by recommending a free English class put on by a local English magazine.

Tonight while I was checking out at the supermarket, the cashier (Jovan) caught my accent and asked where I was from. When he found out it was the U.S. he began to tell me about an American friend of his which they used to practice their Spanish and English respectively before asking me if I had any Colombian friends. I said I had a few and Jovan replied: “Well if you don’t have too many, maybe you can be my friend and I can call you to practice English and you can do your Spanish!” At this point, the Colombians in line behind me were giving me the ‘ay un gringo’ stare despite Jovan’s interest in being my buddy. "So, what do you say man, can I be your friend?" I looked at the floor. Nothing personal Jovan, but the last person I gave my number to called me nonstop at inopportune moments.” 

The expression on his face looked like I had kicked his dog. There was really nothing more I could offer and I can’t help but feel for Colombians in his position; so eager to learn English but limited financially. Although this definitely highlights the need for the recently approved Peace Corps campaign of English education in Colombia, perhaps it will pave the way for more intercambios,’ where Spanish and English speakers come together to hone their language abilities. 

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