Saturday, July 11, 2009

a kiss is just un beso

"I have often speculated on why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a senator's wife? I like to think you killed a man. It's the romantic in me."

It is one of the classic cinematic exchanges. Captain Renault's witty joust with Rick at Rick's Cafe. Anyone of a certain age can probably quote the entire exchange.

Tonight was my turn at Rick's place -- or, more accurately, Ricky's.

Ricky Campbell is a singer whose career spans from the 60s through the present day. He has done many fascinating things during those years. But, just like Richard Blaine, he would most likely say that his current business is "running a saloon" -- or bar-restaurant.

He also happens to be my Spanish teacher here in Melaque.

Friday night he invited us to the eponymous Ricky's for a special session. In addition to teaching Spanish, he also teaches English. He thought it would be a good idea to get the two classes together for a bit of symbiotic learning -- and not the type that Patty "Tania" Hearst received.

There were four of us: two learning Spanish, two learning English. Ricky would hand a card (or two) to a student and request a sentence in the language being learned. We did that for about one hour.

When the hour was over, I was sorry to stop our little game. I found it both educational and fun.

However, of the four, I was the least prepared -- or least informed. For some reason, basic words are simply not sticking in my head -- even the words I try using daily.

My Mexican neighbors are extremely patient with me. As I stumble through a sentence, they either offer assistance or just plain guess at what I am trying to say.

I was at Bodega Aurrera on Friday afternoon talking with the bagger, who must have been in his late teens. He asked me if I wanted the purchase in bags -- or I thought that is what he asked. When I tried repeating the question, he stopped me, and with perfect pronunciation said: "Maybe it would be easier for us both if we spoke English." He had lived in America for seven years.

Speaking Spanish (as little as I do) is a joy for me. It is also a necessity. Even though Jiggs's veterinarian can speak some English, we need to use Spanish quite often to make certain I understand directions.

Everybody has their own method of learning languages. I think of it as a mathematical problem. I have learned the basic arithmetical forms. I now need to move on to calculus by building my vocabulary and getting a better grasp of the verb charts.

Like anything else, I will improve only with practice, practice, practice.

I really wish it was as easy as filling out one of those letters of transit in Casablanca -- perhaps one of the flimsiest plot devices ever invented on film.

But, it is not that easy. This is going to be a lifetime investment.

Just like the film's closing line --

"I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."


Calypso said...

As you suggest no one way of learning fits all. I use three different methods - Pimsleur and similar Spanish Learning programs.

Interacting with people.

And finally after a time a good Introductory Spanish book that sets me straight on some of the grammar issues. Like the fact K and W are not part of the Spanish vocabulary etc.

This three pronged method has gotten me to a place where I can get by. I am not one for lessons or some other intense 2 week learning camp (immersion programs) - just doesn't suit me.

I can understand a LOT more Spanish and read a lot more than I can speak. My methods seem to lead more to comprehension than being a good conversationalist (in Spanish)- but then I tend to listen much more than I speak (I was brought up on that in my own language).

Watching movies with Spanish subtitles and even in Spanish with English subtitles and reading newspapers in Spanish are good things too I think.

Old dogs can learn a few new tricks - it just takes longer to rollover.

Islagringo said...

Most of my Mexican friends have long forgotten that I have a real name and that it starts with a W. They just can't say it. But they can pronounce my Mexican name...Juan! To me, J is pronounced just like a W. Go figure.

Around these parts, it is difficult to get anybody to converse in Spanish. They all speak English or are learning and want to practice. I just go with it. Easier (but not smarter) for me and it helps them. I don't need to earn a buck. They do. It does irritate me though when I do speak Spanish and the person to whom I am speaking says to me, in perfect English, "Why isn't your Spanish better?"!!!!

Anonymous said...

If you ever really get to a conversational/near- or completely- fluent stage, it will really deepen your understanding of and experience of Mexico. It's well worth the trouble as Mexico is a far more interesting place when you understand what's going on.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we are currently struggling to learn the accordion.

Rosas Clan in Tulum said...

That is one of my favorite movies of all time. Absolutely FULL of fantastic lines and exchanges.
I know what you mean about learning the language. Here in Tulum many many people speak English. I am trying to work on my comprehension because when all of my friends and husband are all talking I can listen and add my 2 cents in English and I am still part of the conversation.
My biggest inspiration for learning quickly is the fact that my 5 year old is kickin' my butt. She has learned so much so fast. Now granted... she does not care about grammar and structure but she is doing awesome.

1st Mate said...

In the book, "Eat, Pray, Love" Elizabeth Gilbert describes the system her Italian school encouraged for extracurricular study: students of Italian would get together informally every week for lunch or coffee with students of English, and they'd have conversations, each speaking the language she was trying to learn. Maybe you could do that with some of Rick's English students. Having a notebook handy will help you capture some expressions you might not learn in class. Also a great way to make friends.

Paul said...

I think you are delusionary, Steve, if you believe it is time to move on to the Calculus level of Spanish. Probably some more work with simple arithmetic flash cards is appropriate.

Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- Kim of Boston introduced me to Joseph J. Keenan's Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish. Felipe thought it was too advanced because I had not yet ENTERED beginner's Spanish. But I find the book fascinating. Some of gis hints have really helped me to remember some words -- and pronunciations. As for old dogs, I am still working on "sit".

Islandgringo -- Melaque is not filled with English speakers. I am shocked when someone says something in English. But this is a tourist town for Mexicans, not expatriates.

Kim -- I am going to be happy to get to the point where I can tell "y" from "ll" when I hear it, not when I read it. We do get a more rural Spanish in these parts.

Rosas Clan -- You put your finger on why we adults are slow language learners. We want to speak Spanish as well as we speak English. Ain't gonna happen. I will be satisfied with rickety structure if I can get my point across.

1st Mate -- I will give it a ry. It may get me past my concern about not having enough people to talk with here.

Paul -- The analogy, like all metaphors, limps -- as an ex-girl friend used to say. I say "calculus because I need to remember if I change the person, I need to change my verb and potentially my object to be certain both sides of the equation balance. Adding new words to my addition and substraction is going to be a life-long pursuit -- as it is with English. I am going to stick with my first word picture. In the end, though, you are correct.

Babs said...

Ahh you think Melaque is a vacation spot for Mexicans and not ex-pats - wait til Nov through March. 99% of the people you meet will be Canadians. Truly.
Warren Hardy in SMA has a language school and a program on the internet. His belief is that we learn differently after age 40, which covers most of us. I was shocked after 3 INTENSE weeks of classes and homework how much I learned. Google him and see if his programs are on the internet. It might help.

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- Well, for one thing, over-40s have more money and are desperate to exchange it for the promise of a quick anything -- especially l'arnin'. My problem is that I can stay interested in almost anything for 20 minutes, then my attention simply drifts away. Not a good trait for learning any new skill. But I am going to try.

Joanne said...

Those classes where you have "conversations" are hopeless for me. I need a scientific or mathematical approach. I need charts that explain the verb conjugations. People are different and learn different ways. On the other hand, sometimes you just have to jump in and muddle your way through. Here in Progreso, not too many people speak English, so there are more opportunities for me to practice my Spanish.

We currently have guests renting one of our suites. He is German, she is Mexican and they split their time between the two countries. I speak some German but it sure throws me off to hear a Mexican woman speak German. A little bit of a disconnect there. Then I realize which language she is speaking and we are all good. Most conversations are a mix of German, Spanish and English.

Steve Cotton said...

Joanne -- I tend to learn the same way. And Spanish is quite logical -- as long as I increase my vocabulary. I know a smattering of languages. When I started my Spanish study in The States, I decided I was going to use it on the Spanish-speaking waitress at my work cafeteria. I ended up constructing a sentence out of German, Greek, Russian, and Spanish. I asked my brain for a foreign sentence and it complied. Need to get that hardware fixed.

Laurie said...

Oh Steve, I relate too. Today I have a meeting with a group of pastors. They are insisting on a translator friend to be there. Sob. I thought I was doing better than that. Actually they think I "misunderstood" them, but I do understand what they want. I just can't do it. It will be interesting.

Steve Cotton said...

Laurie -- You will have my prayers. At times, understanding is harder than misunderstanding in these circumstances.