Monday, January 25, 2016

back to school

David Sedaris somewhere noted that he never attends any language class unless at least one other student has fewer language skills than he has.

I know what he means. If you are going to voluntarily put yourself in the chicken coop, there is no sense in letting yourself be the bird for which "henpecked" was coined.

Back in August, I decided to get serious about learning Spanish. And I have been rather diligent in my daily studies. Between the Pimsleur Method materials and the amnesia-inducing DuoLingo, I have expanded my understanding of the language spoken around me every day -- especially verbs.

The problem is that I have an understanding of academic Spanish; I have next to no skill in understanding what my neighbors say.

That sounds contradictory, but it isn't. Because of my background in high school Latin, I can read and translate written basic Spanish. The courses I have taken on my own at home the last five months have added to my vocabulary arsenal.

My friends Ed and Roxanne, who speak very good Spanish, have urged me to join one of the local language classes to improve both my vocabulary and my listening skills. On Friday they even introduced to one of their teachers.

So, I signed up. Rather, I just showed up. "Signing up" would be far too formal for our beach-minded crowd.

The Beginner Spanish course meets for one hour each day from Monday through Thursday.  Today was my baptism by fire.

The teacher took a rather orthodox path. After asking us to introduce ourselves to the class, she listed Spanish words on the board. Most were review words for people who have been taking the classes; some were new.  (The words that is, not the returning students.  Well, other than me.)

My home schooling put me in good stead for translating the vocabulary list. I knew most of them.

Then I hit the wall. We were to relate a story based on pictographs the teacher had distributed -- by responding to questions the teacher posed.

And I re-discovered the reason I was in the class. The teacher, of course, asked her questions in Spanish. I could not understand most of what she was saying.

I knew of my limitation. For some reason, my ear hears different consonants than the speaker has actually spoken. "D"s and "t"s are readily interchanged.  Unless I see the word in writing, I am at sea.

An additional problem is that three children are attending the course. A very precocious boy shouted out answers (and usually correct ones) before I had time to process the question. The teacher was then off on the next question before I had really grasped what was asked or answered.

The most annoying thing about the boy is that he is a dead ringer for me at the same age. That thought alone was disconcerting. Mirrors are not kind devices.

My experience in the past has been that four students learning together is about the optimum size -- for me. Any larger than that and the hens start looking for stasis in the pecking order.

I considered not returning for tomorrow's class. After all, I would be lying if I said I had learned anything. If I do not have space to understand the teacher's question, I will never learn how to listen in Spanish. And if I cannot listen in Spanish, I certainly will never learn to speak Spanish.

Tomorrow I will give it another go. After all, it is only $50 (Mx) a day.  That is $2.69 in good old strong US dollars.

I can put up with a lot of irritation for that type of chump change.


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