Monday, June 30, 2008

no hay remedio, señora

On Sunday evening I met one of this blog's regular commenters: Alee'. She is a friend of my neighbor, Bill. The occasion was his birthday party. And I almost felt as if we were sitting in the Algonquin discussing the latest galleys of The New Yorker.

Alee' has lived in Mexico and Chile, and currently is a court interpreter in Spanish. She also trains court-certified interpreters.

I wish I knew more Spanish. We had a great conversation about some of the intricacies of the language. Once again, she underlined a point that is the most difficult for me to learn: to speak Spanish, you must think in Spanish.

It was a good opportunity to talk with a regular reader and get her take on the blog -- and on other bloggers. She will be a great source to discuss my progress with Spanish -- as soon as I buckle down and get some studying into my schedule. If I have learned anything from bloggers who have made the move south, the quality of living in Mexico is directly proportionate to the ability to understand and speak Spanish.

By the way, Bill: Happy Birthday!


wayne said...

Alee is so right about learning to think in Spanish. Putting that adjective after the noun sort of thing.

1st Mate said...

May I add to that, 'The only way to learn Spanish is to think in Spanish and be in a situation to speak Spanish.' Otherwise you'll get out of the habit of translating your thoughts, it's just too much work. Not that I'm suggesting you hire her as a teacher, but suppose you tried to speak a little Spanish with Alee whenever you see her? It's a start...

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, I think I should have also made the point that any adult who makes an honest effort to learn a new language gets much more in return than the ability to simply converse. Communication in every sense starts to take place.

Mexicans are fascinated and drawn to those who make the attempt....speaking it "correctly" is far less important than just speaking. You go, Steve!

A propósito, tus ojos son azules! In your previous post you said something about the boy with the dark eyes ... no, no, no - blue and beautiful!

Finally meeting you in person and putting a face on this blog was a special and rewarding experience.



Babs said...

I can always think and say the question, if it IS a question, it is when they answer me in rapid fire S;panish that I FREAK! Mas despacio is my most used phrase. It is amazing though when I do realize I'm thinking in Spanish - usually when I'm AWAY from San Miguel........I go "wow" (to myself)

Anonymous said...

Well, Steve, as someone who has gone from a sort of basic textbook kind of Spanish to near-fluency in the past few years, I'd make a couple of suggestions.

First, practice as much as possible. Make some Mexican friends or find a love interest. It's amazing how that can really motivate you to learn.

Second, hire a tutor and work on a lesson every week. I did a forced march through verb conjugations during a year (2006) with a very charming Colombian woman here in Boston, who had been a professor in her home country. She only charged me $20 per hour, we spent two hours per week, and the lessons were invaluable. Also her insistence on only speaking Spanish helped too. I found her on Craigslist.

Third, watch some TV in Spanish. You'd be amazed at how much I have learned from watching a game show called, "Que Dice La Gente?" (It's the kind of mindless drivel I'd never watch in English, but it's amusing in Spanish.) In the early going, you probably won't understand a word, but if you listen closely and focus, you should begin to hear separate words, even if you don't understand them.

Four: watch Spanish language DVDs with the English subtitles on. See how much you can understand without looking at the subtitles. Buy them and watch them several times each.

Watch American DVDs that you already know well with the Spanish soundtrack on. I learned a ton this way too.

Get the Franklin publisher BES-1850 pocket translator. This is a very good tool and can be found on Amazon for about $80. MUCH more convenient than a dictionary.

You can also read the Google news from Mexico. As you are already quite informed about what's going on, your existing context will help you figure it out in Spanish.

Use for Spanish/English translation when you are at home and don't feel like typing on a tiny keyboard.

Finally, read some fiction translated into Spanish that you've already read and know in English. I have managed to read most of the Harry Potter series in Spanish, and that has helped a ton too. The most interesting thing I experienced was this: the first 120 pages of the first book went excruciatingly slowly. It probably took me several weeks to read. But halfway through, something just clicked, because I suddenly managed to finish the last 100 pages on a flight back from San Francisco.

But most importantly, you have to really want to speak Spanish. You have to want it enough to do much of the above, or at least devote a lot of time. If you don't want it enough, it'll likely not happen.

Buena Suerte!

Kim G
Boston, MA
(Where we speak Spanish with a Boston accent)

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- You have hit on the real issue. No one does anything unless they really want to do it. I know I need to learn Spanish in the same way I know that if I went to Mars, I would need to learn to hold my breath for a REAL long time. The difference is that I am really going to Mexico, and probably not to Mars.

In less than two weeks the desperation to know Spanish will return when I fly down to Manzanillo. It will begin right at the airport when I ask the taxi cab driver: "¿Cuánto cuesta?" He will then respond, and I will stand there like some dim 3-year old who has forgotten all his numbers.

I have been considering working on my Stanislavsky technique by being a deaf mute. But that means I would have to work on my spelling. Perhaps a series of embarrassing moments like that will get me to study. I doubt it though. My Celtic blood has been thinned enough to make shame a hopeless learning mechanism.

Thanks for the list. I have tried most of them -- now and then. And there is the rub. Until I apply myself I will simply not learn. And I will not apply myself until I see the value in using some of my full hours to avoid further taxi cab moments.

Steve Cotton said...

Alee' -- I think I am bold enough to get out there on the end of the board and take the dive --- even if I do make a fool of myself. (Come to think of it, I do that every day.) I am looking forward to speaking Spanish wherever I can in Melaque in less than two weeks. It was great to meet you in person. We need to follow up on the poetry.

Babs -- You have uncovered one of the primordial fear of all adults: the fear of looking silly when trying to speak a new language. Getting people to slow down helps, but I still need to keep my mind in Spanish gear. I have been trying to read the Psalms in Spanish. So far, I have not yet had that magic AHA moment on finding the key to how the language works.

Wayne -- For me, the goal of thinking in Spanish is far more than getting the words in the proper order. I still make the basic mistake of trying to translate word for word instead of conveying what I mean. Of course, when you only have a screw driver and a set of pliers in your tool chest, it is difficult to build a house. (Now, try conveying THAT in Spanish.)

Bliss -- You are correct that all language skills become rusty without use. I have several Mexican friends at church. I really need to start speaking Spanish with them.