Monday, March 07, 2016

spanish tales

My friends Ed and Roxane claim that learning Spanish is fun.

It may be for them; they speak it quite well and are now mining some of its glittery subtleties. For me, it is just hard work. But I knew that before I started down the road to better Spanish.

If you have hung around this rather dodgy neighborhood for very long, you know how my language journey has gone.

I tried a couple of computer language programs before I headed to Mexico permanently in April 2009. Not much of it stuck.

That summer I took Spanish lessons from a local bar owner. I picked up a few phrases, but Spanish remained a foreign language -- in every sense of that adjective.

For seven years, I did not do much more. What Spanish I learned I picked up from menus or from waiters who wanted to make certain I understood the seamier side of living in Melaque. Fortunately, I forgot most of the slang terms.

Late last year, I decided to get serious about studying Spanish. I had not developed a burning urge to discuss Sartre with my Mexican neighbors. What changed was my decision to become a Mexican citizen.

Even though my age will waive the requirement to take the Mexican history test (and that is too bad because I know I could ace it -- even with its ideological biases), I still will be required to take a Spanish fluency test. And I knew, with my current language skills, not only could I not pass the test, I would probably be deported for cultural effrontery.

In mid-October, I pulled out all of my Spanish learning tools (moving to mexico -- learning the language) and drafted a plan to get serious about learning Spanish. Much to my surprise, I stuck with it. Well, I stuck with trying to learn Spanish. The plan crumbled with its first contact with reality.

I daily worked my way through a Pimsleur-based course from The Learnables, learning additional vocabulary while I developed my ear to listen to Spanish speakers.
(¿sprechen sie español?) For some reason, that is no longer in my memory (simiar to the dsappearance of the verb "to reach"), I followed the advice of a reader and switched over to the smartphone-based application Duolingo.

I suspect I switched in November when Darrel and I drove north to Oregon. Having the program on my telephone made it very accessible on the trip.

This was not my first exposure to Duolingo. I tried it a couple of years ago. And it seemed like a great tool. I was getting 100% correct answers during each session -- but I was retaining nothing. Or so I thought.

On the trips up and back, I used Duolingo about an hour a day. When I returned to Barra de Navidad in December, I kept up my studies. Once again, I was knocking the tests out of the park, but I did not seem to recall anything.

I knew I was not learning what I should when I advanced to the units dealing with the preterite and past verb tenses. I was guessing correctly, but I did not understand the grammar rules.

That, to me, is the weakness of Duolingo, grammar rules are left to inductive reasoning. That is problematic for we deductivists.

That was the point I knew I could not learn Spanish on my own. So, off I went for a disastrous first day at a local language school. Because I do not come out well in the end of the story, I will not bore you with my adventure of trying to learn Spanish with three children in my class
(back to school).

All turned out well, though. The school was starting an adults only class for advanced beginners. Amy, the instructor, suggested I might prefer it. I have.

The class meets four times a week, and we are welcome to come to as many, or as few, classes as we choose. I had intended to plunge right in with the full four classes. That was before a stomach disturbance kept me in bed one week and a trip to the cardiologist kept me away a second week.

Most of my fellow students are interested in learning conversational Spanish. My goal is a bit different. I want to pass the citizenship language requirement.

I am not a chatter. I do not spend much time indulging in small talk with English speakers; I cannot Imagine that my personality will change because I can speak a bit of Spanish.

Am I having fun? Nope. But I am working hard at trying to figure out the complexities of this Latin-based language whose vocabulary shares quite a few words -- those that the Normans brought to England in 1066.

And it must be working. Last Thursday I was sitting in a local restaurant talking with two of the business's managers when my telephone rang.  It was Jose -- Barco's food dealer from Guadalajara (moving to mexico -- buying stuff).

Because I was too uncertain of my Spanish to call Jose two weeks prior, I had asked one of the managers (Julio) to call Jose on my behalf. He did because he knew my language handicap.

When I answered my telephone o
n Thursday, I launched into a conversation with Jose where we established what I needed, where we should meet, and how long it would take the two of us to get there. Basic stuff. But I did it in Spanish.

While I was talking, I noticed the two managers looking surprised at one another. When I finished my call, they both complimented me and said they were going to have to be careful what they said around me.

I was pleased with the compliment. But their concern was misplaced. My Spanish is certainly not developed enough to eavesdrop. At least, not yet.

So, today, I will be back on a regular four day a week schedule. I still spend an hour on Duolingo each morning while I walk Barco. And I do my conjugation drills.

You may be curious about the photograph at the top of this essay. It really has nothing to do with learning Spanish -- other than the fact that I am now disciplining Barco in a version of Spanish.

He has ruined most of my screen doors now that he has figured out how to pull the screen material out of the frame. In the land of mosquitoes and flying midges, it is not a canine skill that warms my heart.

And if you are curious why I am not buying new furniture for at least a year, take a look at the chair and sofa that once had cloth backings.

I think there is a Spanish phrase.  Oh, right. Perro malo.

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