The Voices in your Head

Thinking back, I realized I started learning Spanish from a young age. Sesame Street on PBS in the US taught me my numbers. Old Spaghetti Westerns from the 50’s and 60’s, while horribly racist depictions of people from Mexico, taught me some Spanish phrases that are ingrained in me. So much so, they’re interchangeable with their English counterparts. So I don’t even need to think about it.

Then there were all the shows I watched with my kids. Especially Dora the Explorer. I spent countless hours listening to her teaching Spanish to 3 and 4 year olds. Funny, she was able to teach it to me too.

But as I have pursued my Spanish language education – both formal and informal – I realized there were even more instances where, through osmosis, the Spanish had seeped in without me really knowing it.

Early on, we were in a restaurant on Playa de la Malvarrosa looking at a menu that was all in Spanish. I don’t like to ask for the menu in English because I need to learn. I was reading the seafood options and suddenly Ricardo Montalban’s voice – of the 1970’s American TV show ‘Fantasy Island ‘- broke into my head. He had done a restaurant commercial back then for ‘Steak and Langostino’. Which sounded exotic when I was 10, but it’s just small lobster or big shrimp. When I saw the word on the menu in Valencia I knew exactly what it was. He also did a famous commercial for the ‘Chrysler Cordoba’ so I can say that city perfectly. Although his famous phrase describing ‘rich Corinthian leather’ does me no good here.

But it was also at that moment in the restaurant, it occurred to me that when I’ve been learning Spanish, its Ricardo Montalban’s voice through which I mill the entire language. Sure, he was born in Mexico, and Mexican Spanish and the Spanish spoken in Spain isn’t exactly the same. But it seems to work for my purpose. Seriously, when I learn a new word or phrase, I hear Mr. Montalban’s voice saying back to me. Is that weird? OK – yeah, its weird.

And now that I know this, I intentionally tried it with voice of Sofia Vergara, the Colombian born actress on ‘Modern Family‘. But while she’s a native speaker it doesn’t work for me. Sometimes I can make actor Javier Bardem’s voice work, but I have to really try. Nope, I think for me its Ricardo Montalban. I have no idea why.

But I suppose I should be grateful to him. I have been told by more than one person here – including Mis Amigos – that my accent is ‘muy bien’. Although I will never reveal my secret weapon, now when I’m chewing on a new phrase, I just think of stately Ricardo Montalban in his white suit and black tie and smile. Muchas Gracias, Senor Montalban. This little Langostino thanks you.