“¿Cómo aprendiste tu inglés?” I turned to look at the small boy standing next to me on the Metro train. How did you learn English?
He had obviously been listening to me and my friends speaking in English.
“Just like you learned Spanish,” I told him in Spanish. “I grew up in a country where people speak English.”
He’d surprised me with his boldness. Most Chileans are very reserved when it comes to speaking with a gringa. I figured our conversation was done, but he eagerly continued, “¿Inglaterra?” England?
“No, the United States.” His eyes, surrounded by the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen, opened up wide. “Are you learning English at school?”
He nodded his head, suddenly a little shy. His taller compañero, standing behind him, gave him a nudge, but he was silent, chewing on the cord of his hoodie until the older woman riding with them pulled it out of his mouth.
Just when I thought that he wasn’t going to answer, he murmured, “Hello.”
My friends and I all said “hello” to him. “How are you?” I asked him.
He grinned at me and started to sing quietly, “Hello, hello, hello. Hello and how are you…” The “Hello” song that, apparently, all Chilean school children learn in their English classes.
I started to sing along with him, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine…”
When I looked up, at least a dozen pairs of eyes were watching. All the Chileans at our end of the train car were openly staring at us.
The other boy had joined in our song, so I asked if he were studying English, too. He shook his head, affected no doubt by an attack of “Chilenitis,” fear of speaking English in public, but he had understood me perfectly.
The younger boy carried on, bravely peppering me with questions, including, “Why are you in Chile?”
When I replied, “I am an English teacher,” the older boy shrank away, but my singing partner never stopped until we all got off at the last stop on the train.
And even then, as he exited the car, he turned around and gave me what I consider to be the “Spanish blessing,” but with a twist.
“Que te vaya bien…,” he called out over his shoulder, as the older lady marched him down the platform, “…en el cole.” Good luck at school!
~~previously published August 15, 2011 on my original blog