Humor by Greg Schwem

We are driving. In a rental car. In San Juan. Without a GPS. We have exactly one hour to make it to some place called Campo Rico, whose website promises "a variety of adventure and tour options to fulfill everyone's desire, from an impressive zip-lining experience crossing a canyon with waterfalls to a nice and easy hike through a natural coastal dry forest."

We are hoping to experience zip lining for the first time. At this moment, however, there is nothing nice and easy about our excursion. At this moment, I fear our adventure will consist of merely trying to survive at least one night in a snake-infested Puerto Rican jungle after we make a wrong turn. We will be spotted only when some tourist who knew where he was going casually zip lines over a waterfall and says, "Is that a rental car down there?"

My wife has the steering wheel in a death grip while I desperately try to read the directions from our hotel concierge. I would feel more confident if those directions didn't include sentences such as "go through the Minillas Tunnel to Plaza Las Americas Mall" and "you're looking for an unmarked exit." Compounding our troubles is that all the road signs are in Spanish.

I turn to my daughters in the back seat, both of whom are tormented by the idea that, if we do find our destination, they will be forced to relinquish their iPods for a few hours. For that reason, they have their earbuds firmly affixed to their temples, oblivious to our predicament.

"Natalie, you speak Spanish. Help us out here."



"What's your prob, Dad?"

My "prob" was incorrectly assuming my high school freshman daughter could help guide us to Campo Wherever thanks to the recent 'A' she received in her introductory Spanish class. I didn't expect her to carry on lengthy conversations with locals, but she should have at least mastered directional words by now, right?

"The sign says 'oeste.' Is that east or west?"

"I have no idea."

That answers that question.

"What have you learned?" I asked incredulously.

"Cuidar el pez."

"And that means..."

"To take care of your fish."

I feel much better.

When my daughter chose Spanish as one of her school subjects, we were overjoyed. My wife took several years of Spanish in high school, yet, like most Americans, promptly forgot most of it before the ink on her diploma was dry. I opted for German, a language that is useful only if one gets transferred to Munich following college. We vowed not to let our daughter succumb to laziness. We would make sure she retained that second language and spoke it at will, just as seemingly every Latin American citizen can do with English

Now I realize that learning a second language is simply too taxing on an American teenager's brain. What we should have done is re-enrolled her in English, a dialect that is disappearing in U.S. public high schools, replaced by something unknown to me. I do know that high school English is much shorter. Just as my daughter abbreviates nearly every word in every sentence she taps out on her cell phone, so does she compress words when speaking to anyone within earshot. "Problem" becomes "prob," pizza is "peez" and, well, you get the idea. Occasionally I will give her a sentence and ask her to translate it.

"Natalie, say 'The President will be elected in November' in whatever language you speak."

"The prez will be elec in Nove."

Makes a big diff, doesn't it?

I'm hoping this is a phase and that eventually she will retreat to using words that can be found in a standard dictionary. Then she can direct her attention to learning Spanish phrases that don't involve the nurturing of marine life. Until then, I'm resigned to wearing the navigator hat on family excursions.

Suddenly I hear a voice from the back seat, a voice screaming to be heard over her own iPod.

"Te acabas de perder su salida!"

"What does that mean?"

"You just missed your exit."

Now I know why she got an 'A.'

Humorist Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad

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