The Potatoes!

Location

Costa Rica

10° 28′ 24.6828″ N84° 1′ 0.2712″ W

Potatoes
Have you ever misunderstood what someone said to you? That happens a lot to me in Costa Rica. Thankfully, my Spanish has improved greatly. My Mama Tica helps me understand a lot about things…and potatoes!

While I am in Costa Rica, my primary focus is to improve my Spanish speaking skills. Luckily, my Mama Tica (host mom) does not speak any English! This may sound like a bad thing, but it is very good for me because I have to speak Spanish to communicate with her.

I love talking with my Mama Tica. She has so many great stories to tell. She also speaks slower to me so that I can understand easily. Most people speak very quickly! It is difficult to understand what they are saying sometimes. However, it has become easier since I have been in Costa Rica. Gracias a Dios!

That means “Thanks to God.” It is an extremely common saying here. There is no separation of church and state here, which means that the government declared a national religion which is Catholicism. Because of this, many of the common sayings have to do with religion.

One thing that really helps my Spanish is to watch the news every night. They speak very fast, but the more that I listen to the news in Spanish, the more that I am able to understand.

One night, my Mama Tica and I were watching the news on television. I had been doing homework in my room so she called me when the news came on. When I came to the main room, the news stories had already started.

She told me that I had missed one that was very important. She begins to tell me what the story was about. I heard her say “Papa” which means “potato.” She had said, “el Papa se renuncio.” I thought that this meant “the potatoes are going away.” So I started a conversation about how potatoes have been changed to only produce one potato. They used to produce multiple every year when you planted the eyes (seeds) of the potato. My grandma told me once that when she was a young girl, you could buy a potato in the grocery store, plant it and grow your own potatoes in your backyard!

My Mama Tica gave me a strange look. I thought I had just made an error with something that I had said and that she was going to correct me when I finished my sentence. When I finished my sentence, she just told me, “En un momento, va a entender.” (In a moment, you will understand.) I thought that this was a strange response…

When the news story came on that she was telling me about, I saw that it was actually about the Pope, the head of the Catholic church, not about potatoes! It was a story about the Pope giving up his position (or renouncing his position as my mama tica had said when she said “el Papa se renuncio”) because of his age. It had nothing to do with potatoes! “El Papa” means The Pope and “la papa” means potato. I felt so silly, but my Mama Tica and I laughed about it.

There are many words in Spanish that sound similar but mean different things. Like potato and Pope. That is one difficulty about learning another language. You have to pay attention to the context of the words.

It is not only this way with Spanish. It is very common in English as well, but I bet you have not thought much about words like these. For example, the word “mean.” It can be used to say the definition of a word- “What does ‘anxious’ mean?” It can be used to describe an action is not nice- “It was mean to push her”. People learning English have the same troubles that I have. Can you think of other words that have more than one meaning?

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