Monday, October 19, 2015

¿sprechen sie español?

For those of you who put your roulette chips on Steve writing about learning Spanish and then retiring to the pool to think about starting his lessons mañana (as a certain blogger in the highlands predicted), the croupier has just raked in your bets.

Well, he has raked in at least two-thirds of your chips.  After all, no prediction goes entirely unmet.

After sifting through my materials, I decided to take up my lessons with the Pimsleur-based course from The Learnables.  I started it while I was still living in Oregon, but I could not recall why I had stopped.

I now remember.

The Pimsleur method is based on learning language in the same way children learn their native languages -- by first listening and then gradually adding i the more subtle forms of speech.  The program flashes an illustration of a common day object on the computer screen.  The native speaker then says its name.  There are no captions.

I immediately fell into the high school language trap -- thinking I had lines in the scene.  I tried repeating what the voice said. 

That worked until the picture of a doctor eating bread was displayed.  It sounded as if the voice said, "The doctor is tucking into the pan."  (But he said it is Spanish, as well as the "tucking in.")

Now, as a boy of the Oregon woods, "tucking into" one's food is not an experience unknown to me.  I was just surprised that my Spanish-speaking friends were as colloquial as my upbringing.

I replayed the lesson several times.  I could understand "doctor" and "bread" easily.  But the meat in the sandwich remained a stranger to my ear.

In desperation I looked at the instructions.  There it was on page 6.  Red letters.  Bold face type.  Shouting capital letters.  "DO NOT REPEAT THE WORDS OF THE SENTENCES OUT LOUD."  I was to listen only.

The process is a good one.  By listening, I have been introduced to the concept of gender, plurals, use of adjectives, and simple sentence structure -- all without having said a word out loud.

But my inability to make any sense of the doctor's meal bothered me.  After listening to at least ten more variations on the sentence, I finally figured out what the narrator was saying.  "El médico está comiendo el pan."

The problem is my listening ability.  My ear conflated the verb combination into "es taco miendo."  And, having allowed by brain to make that connection, I wondered why the doctor was eating bread if he already had a taco?

I have long been aware of that failing.  Several people have told me that people who have musically-trained ears can hear and learn languages easier than those without musical training.

Well, my ears are well-trained to the vagaries of music.  But five decades of language classes have not made the task of speaking a new tongue any easier.  Whether it has been German, Russian, Greek, Italian, or Spanish.

That failing was publicly exhibited at dinner the other night.  I took, Ozzie, Yadira, ad the two kids to dinner at a local pizza parlor.  Because they all speak fluent Spanish, I wanted to handle the ordering.  After all, I have rather good restaurant Spanish.  Or so I thought.

We decided on an extra large pizza.  I knew I could handle that order.  But the tricky part was our decision to have half of it pepperoni; the other half Hawaiian.

Applying what I knew about weights, I informed the waitress we wanted "medio" pepperoni, "medio Hawaiian.  She understood.  But Yadira told me "half," in this context, would be "mitad."

But I did not hear her say "mitad."  I heard "mital."  When she and Ozzie repeated the word, their "d" sounded like an "l" to me.  Repetition didn't help.

The Spanish "d' and "l" (like many other sounds) are softer than they are in English.  And that softness challenges my ear.

And that is why the Pimsleur method is designed for me.  I need to work on my listening.

My reading and writing skills are far more advanced than my spoken Spanish.  Dora, the woman who helps me maintain the house with no name, and I regularly leave notes for one another.  Admittedly, hers are far more complex than mine.

About those roulette chips.  I swore that I was going to set aside time for daily Spanish review.  That was a foolish promise.  I have been reviewing, but somewhat sporadically.  I did not take into account my promises to drive people to and from Manzanillo over the past few days.

But I have started.  I know where I first need to work.  I am 20% through the first disc The Learnables Spanish Level 1.  If all goes well, I will buy the follow-on lessons. 

They are quite expensive.  But, if they help me hear better and learn better and speak better, it will be money well spent.

Keep putting those chips on the table, I can use them to buy more material.

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