Learn Spanish in Peru: Taxi-ing our way

Terry Marshall

Note: This page is part of a series that we wrote to help us learn Spanish in Peru. Each blog focuses on one or two language learning activities. They are designed so show you how to implement Walkabout language learning activities. Use our examples here for any language you want to learn. See the "More Peru Stories" list of links on this page for additional language learning techniques.

Learn Spanish in Peru while riding in a taxiWe used a taxi ride to help us learn Spanish in Peru.
Ann Marshall

We want to learn Spanish. It’'s too far to walk to school from our house, so we take a taxi to and from classes (one-way, 2 sols; 67 cents USD). Cusco is a city of taxis, with few privately owned cars. Tiny taxis -- Daewoo, Kia, Yaris -- dart about like mating bumblebees.

The Rule Book here remains (to us anyway) one of life's great mysteries. That Rule Book tells drivers which stop signs to obey and which they can whizz past without a second thought; who has the right of way at unmarked intersections; when it’'s OK to pass on the right or swerve into the oncoming traffic; when to zip left around a corner without bothering to check first who's coming. Read more about learning culture through the local language.

Traffic here is a cross between high entertainment and unadulterated terror. It is also an intricate, choreographed ballet. After all, we haven't yet seen an actual collision. As Shawn notes, the drivers are really on top of their job; you never see one yakking on his cell phone.

Personal space is much tighter here, and no one appears to take offense when a taxi darts into a gap in traffic that seems no larger than a shopping basket.

The horn is as key to driving as are a steering wheel and tires. They not only honk, they mimic police and ambulance sirens as well as the whole gamut of sounds you get when your car alarm goes berserk. Tooting your horn is not rude. It is part chatter, part reverse sonar. The chatter: this light is about to change, so don't piddle, buddy; I'm in a bigger hurry than you, so please move over; hey, amigo, how's it going? The reverse sonar: large bus approaching on your left rear bumper, pal, so don't make any unexpected moves.

We engage our drivers in conversation, both to keep our minds off the chaos around us, and to take advantage of an uninterrupted stint with a native speaker and learn Spanish in Peru.

Most, at first, are amazed that we're from the U.S. and know a bit of Spanish. "Wow, where'd you learn to speak so well?"

This morning delivered up one of those great rides when we really clicked with our driver. His brother was an exchange student for a year in Miami.

"Really, my brother lives in Miami," I said. "Small world, no?"

That brought a torrent of info, all in Spanish. His brother is back home in Cusco now. He loved Miami. He loves to talk about Miami. "Why don't you come to our house this Saturday? I'll fix a barbecue. You can talk with him. He'll love to meet you." For us, a great opportunity to practice learning Spanish in Peru.

We couldn't, alas: we're booked solid for the weekend. But for a few precious moments, we kept up a rousing conversation. We learned a lot about one Peruvian family - as well as why a key section of the main street had been dug up, and the names of several Cusco landmarks we had wondered about.

We also learned (again) how disgusted the local folk were when the Peruvian soccer team and arch-rival Chile stumbled to a tie last night. Every conversation, from the traffic to local sports provides an opportunity to learn Spanish in Peru.

You can use a taxi ride or any other daily activity to create language learning experiences. Your dialogs can be tailor made to meet you daily language needs in a new country or to improve your skills while you study a new language in your home country. Check out the Walkabout Language Learning Action Guide.

Tips to help Learn Spanish in Peru

  • To learn Spanish in Peru (or anywhere for that matter), take advantage of captive audiences; strike up a conversation.
  • Ask questions: it's amazing what you'll learn (and what people will tell you).

--Posted by Terry, October 10                                        

← Previous: Altitude Sickness!          Next: Chela's Story  →

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