Language semi-immersion


Here’s one way to practice a foreign language.

If you live near a large ethnic population, find out where they shop and pay those stores a visit. Check the Yellow Pages under “Super Stores & Supermarkets,” “Gourmet Food Shops and Specialties” and “Mexican & Latin American Food Products.”

When I was in Buenos Aires, I practiced my Spanish by reading the signs in the grocery stores (no, not “grocerias,” which in Spanish means, literally, “bad word”) and hardware stores. I found that in Buenos Aires, peas are called arvejas, beans are porotos and strawberries are frutillas (they are not usually called that outside of Argentina).

Over the Christmas holidays we had a house guest from Hainan Island, off the China coast. As she was more interested in her native vegetables and rice than our American fare, we found a Chinese supermarket nearby in Newark, California. It is part of a local chain called Ranch 99.

The endless displays of live bullfrogs and fish plus packages of exotic foods from the Orient (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, etc.) made my head spin. We felt we were right in China, surrounded by Chinese-speaking shoppers and strange signs, labels and smells.

Ranch 99 market even has durian fruit from Southeast Asia — but ya don’t want to smell it!

BILL O’CONNELL

Castro Valley, CA