Becoming Bilingual | It’s Time to Become Fluent in Spanish

My mom in Cuba, looking proud as punch.
My mom in Cuba, looking proud as punch.

My mother taught me a lot of things.

Spanish was not one of them (sorry mom).

Now, I’ll concede that she did teach me basics like my numbers 1-10, abuela (grandmother), and “Tita” (my butchered form of Tia, meaning aunt). She also taught me the Cuban slang for the bus: lawawa.

And let me tell you, as a young 7th grader eager to impress her classmates in her first real Spanish class, starting with “lawawa” instead of the correct autobús is NOT the way to begin a successful year of Junior High Spanish.

Only the best Cuban restaurant in Miami, Versailles.
Only the best Cuban restaurant in Miami, Versailles.

Nevertheless, this early childhood trauma won’t deter me from becoming bilingual. Every year when we visit Miami I long for the confidence and ability to converse in Spanish. I’m in that awkward stage of understanding 75% of what is said, but speaking level of 25%. Sure, at Versailles (the best Cuban restaurant in Miami) I can order my bistec empanizado con arroz blanco y frijoles negros….but to convey that I’m splitting that steak with my mom and we require another order of arroz blanco y frijoles negros? Sigh.

It’s 2013. It’s time to get my shit together. It’s time to get serious.

Plus, my Abuela speaks little to no English nowadays. But I know she knows English. Our conversations typically involve her speaking in Spanish, me responding in English, and overall still maintaining a single conversation thread.

But I know you’re thinking…If your family is fluent in Spanish, why not simply talk with them?

Think you’re clever, right? I’ll tell you why I can’t just simply talk with them. Case and point:

Me: Hola.

Mom: Hola, buenos días!

Me: ¿Cómo estás?

Mom: Bien, y tú?

Me: Bien. ¿Cómo se dice…”I’m tired”?

Mom: Estoy cansada.

Me: Estoy cansada.



Mom: You sound like an American.

Me: I AM an American.

And we’ll just leave it at that.


rosetta-stone-spainAwhile ago my grandparents pitched in to get me a copy of the Rosetta Stone. And the rumours are true, the Rosetta Stone really helps you learn another language. There is no English present in the lessons; instead it relies upon images and your ability of putting 2 and 2 together. Of course, I’m learning the Spain edition, which incorporates that familiar lisp that we associate on our travels to Bar-THe-lona. The Cubans don’t speak with a lisp. I think when I practice with the lisp, my family cringes on the inside.

But at least I know that my pronunciation of bicicleta is the proper way to do it. So there.

Since the move and consequent remodel of our home, it’s been awhile since I’ve gotten back to the Rosetta Stone. I need to develop a routine again, just like I did with my piano practice. This weekend is supposed to be chilly, so I figure I’ll have some time to put some good work into this.

And what is bistec empanizado anyway? Well it’s just the most delicious Cuban treat ever.


That my friend, is from Versailles Cuban restaurant in Miami. It’s a very thin steak, marinated in garlic and egg, dipped in breadcrumbs and pan fried. It’s served with a side of white rice, and some black beans (they’re in the bowl on the upper right).

Luckily, you can make this amazing little treat at home:

  1. Get a pack of small steaks sliced really thin, or go to your butcher
  2. Marinate your steaks overnight with a heavy-handed dose of garlic power and 1 beaten egg
  3. To prepare: dip your garlic & egg drenched steak into some breadcrumbs (or panko) and press firmly to coat on both sides. Fry in a pan on the stove until they are golden brown
  4. Serve with some lime wedges, white rice, and Cuban-style black beans, and enjoy!

Make this for your family, and get a gold star.

You’re welcome.

  • Considering every Cuban (and Puerto Ricans, too, I understand) call it “la wawa” (or la guagua), it’s a totally legitimate word! But if you learn to speak Spanish, how will your Mom and I be able to speak to each other in front of you when we don’t want you to understand what we’re saying? Darn! Guess it’s too late already, huh?

    That was a lovely note from Diana! Very sweet!

  • Let’s not forget la croquetica :)

    • NatalieRebecca

      nom nom nom

  • Diana Buznego

    You can always practice with me! I luckily learned Spanish and studied entirely too much of it in school and use it pretty much everyday now at work. Just one of the “perks” of working in the Latin America office, that and cuban coffee at 3pm.

    Ahora un poquito de español… Primeramente, la lengua española tiene muchas formas de pronunciamento. Todo depende en la región que estas. No te preocupes mucho de eso. Nuestra familia es de España, que querie decir que los abuelos de nuestros abuelos hablaban hací.

    Tengo muchísimo más hambre ahora despues de ver el bistec empanizado!
    Mucho amor de Miami de tu prima!

    (Now, a little Spanish… First of all, the Spanish language has lots of forms of pronunciation. It all depends on what region you are in. Don’t worry too much about that. Our family is from Spain, so that’s the way our grandparents’ grandparents spoke anyways.

    I’m much more hungry now after seeing the bistec empanizado!
    Lots of love from Miami from your cousin!)

    • NatalieRebecca

      Thanks! I definitely understood the spanish that you wrote above, and didn’t need to cheat! ;)

      But it’s speaking back that I have problems. So here goes (without Google translate). Apologies in advance for poor word choices or butchered verbs:

      Primero, tengo que practicar hablando español. Porque, mas practicar y hablo español mejor. Vivo ¿Que Pasa USA? para practicar.