After about a month (January) of neglect I’m trying to resuscitate my Spanish studies. One of our parishioners who offered to help me with conversation last month started speaking to me in Spanish the other Sunday and I completely froze up. Muy malo.
The young miss now enjoys drilling me daily on my few hundred vocabulary words. We compare notes on her French and my Spanish. She’s brilliant with languages, so it’s quite possible she’ll pick up more Spanish from our exercises than I. As it is, she’s thinking of adding German instead of Spanish as her elective next year. And why not? The more languages, the better.
Anyway, my wife picked up this classic diccionario at a thrift shop for a quarter. “You need one for your office,” she said. I already have two at home–the big one is by the computer and the little one is usually at my bedside. At the public library yesterday, I picked up 501 Spanish verbs. More information than I probably want, and definitely more than I can handle–Honduras is less then three months away. But still, I’d like to be slightly more advanced in the language than Tourist Spanish for Dummies.
When I was a kid, I loved to read reference books like encyclopedias and dictionaries. Still do. This 1948 edition is no exception. I found the section on irregular verbs and decided I needed to start on these. I noted all these verbs with “go” endings in first person singular. So cute! Our spiritual life peer minister, adept in the language, said to me, “The yogo verbs.”
I put … pongo
I say … digo
I hear … oigo
I do … hago
I come .. vengo
I fall … caigo
I bring … traigo
I leave … saigo
and my favorite Spanish word this week: I have … tengo.
Another embarrassment (not embarazada!) is missing the double l’s in the middle of a few personal pronouns. I was corrected by another one of our peer ministers on this one. I love the Spanish words for rain and key, so how could I have missed the proper pronunciations for “she” and “they”?
On another front, my comprehension is still stuck on day one. I tried watching some Spanish language television, and they’re all talking so fast. Nice looking women, to be sure, but I’m in it for the language, amigos. I do a bit better with listening to Spanish music in restaurants and on YouTube. On the latter, I let the Selena Channel play the other day. “Amor prohibido.” I think I’ve got that one down. Linguistically speaking, of course.
Back in the late 1960s, my public school started mandatory foreign language instruction at fourth grade (ages 8-9) (it was a pacesetter nationally in this regard). We didn’t have a choice: it was either French or Spanish, and assignment was arbitrary. So I learned Spanish for 9 years (it was elective by high school, but I continued), had a very very gifted teacher for 3 years of high school, and was so fluent I often dreamt in Spanish. Spanish literature was, however, a very different species of thing: reading Lope de Vega and Calderon (Spanish matured in a similar timeline to English, so it was like reading Shakespearean Spanish…), Perez Galdos, et cet, I encountered a very different Spanish (not just linguistically, but a worldview that was not as readily Western European as French or German literature). It was quite tough stuff, unexpectedly so. By the time I got to college, the only classes I wouldn’t have placed out of were the more advanced Spanish lit classes, and I didn’t have the time or inclination for that, so I took a year of Latin instead (using a method where English was not used in instruction – the professor and his fellow Classics prof wife were expecting their first child, and planning to have the newborn speak Latin as his/her mother tongue….). It was Virginia, and not a lot of folks spoke Spanish conversationally, so my Spanish withered (though I am told today that my lack of accent, at least from a Latin American perspective, is still golden).
When I finally went to Spain in 1990, I spent 2 weeks in Castile. I had been warned by a German friend that Castilians can be worse than Americans’ fears of Parisians in terms of coldness to people who don’t speak the mother tongue elegantly. While I could fake Castellano, it was not an elegant or natural fake (the “lisp” is one thing; the “ll” pronunciation a little more labored; but it was the vocabulary choices that were more telling, it seems); on a number of occasions, my Spanish would be responded to in English. I was later told that my accent was identifiably Latin American (but not more specific than that) and that some Castellanos associated it with con artists, so that’s why the reaction I got.
Anyway, I feel that I am redeeming my Spanish with an elderly Colombian client in my Vincentian work (her Spanish is very elegant): while I don’t converse with facility, I can understand her in Spanish sufficiently to make her life easier.
My favorite Spanish accent was that of former colleague from the Altiplano of Bolivia. It was a leisurely, beautifully sing-song Spanish. My least favorite: Argentine Italo-Spanish.
I should add that, in terms of cultural history, Americans tend to be taught a history of Anglo-North America + a Western Europe comprising ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Charlemagne’s empire and its successors, and the British Isles. Spain and her successor states lie outside this for the most part. So Spanish culture seems more “foreign” than French or German culture.
(It’s always fun to remind Americans that, in 1750, at the threshold of Philadelphia’s “golden age”, the population of Mexico City was over 4 times that of Philadelphia, and Mexico City had a deep and rich culture that would have dazzled any Americans who travelled there. It would be most interesting to see how Latin America might have devolved from its colonial mother empires (Spain and Portugal) without the trauma of the Napoleonic wars… as historians are now wont to note, Carlos III of Spain did a better job with his American colonies than George III of Great Britain did with his.)
If you think relearning Spanish is hard, wait until you try to converse with someone from Mexico!
Most of the rules you learned go out the window. “Tu” is in common ujse instead of “Usted.” And then there are the contractions: mijo (mi hijo), etc.
I thought I knew a bit of Spanish, but eating in the same coffee shop each morning and attempting to converse with the Mexican staff has taught me that I had better stick with Ingles.
I still remember some of my Spanish from high school and some of my German from college. German was easier, I guess because it’s so like English. We used to watch old German language movies on tv but it’s true – they spoke so quickly it was hard to understand. Easier to learn German songs. Most fun was when I went on my one trip to Europe and got to use my German with real German speakers. Maybe you could try singing in Spanish – so many songs to choose from – “Yo soy un hombre sincero …” :)
Todd’s next-to-last graf reminds me of a story I once heard a priest tell within a homily about humility. He was serving in a Spanish-speaking country and was leaving, so they threw him a good-bye party. Well, as he put it, he felt it was way over the top so – thinking like an English speaker – he said, “Yo soy embarrazado por esta atencion.” Of course, his Spanish speaking parishioners began looking at him as if he grew two heads, since he told them he was pregnant from all the attention!
If you know enough Spanish but don’t speak enough to think in Spanish, it’s a very easy mistake to make.
Try reading the daily Gospel in Spanish after reading it in English. Don’t look up the words, but do read it aloud. Use a Latin American translation, if you can find it – not a translation from Spain. (The Catholic “Biblia Latinao-americana” is used here in Honduras, but the ecumenical “Dios Habla Hoy” or its current equivalent is even easier.)
Hondurans seldom use “tu” since it’s a more formal (and classist) society. You’ll hear and use “usted” here.
I can send you a New Testament with the spring break immersion group if you want, but I think the St. Thomas library has several Spanish language bibles.
(By the way, La Biblia de Jerusalén is much too hard to use as a learning tool, even the Latin American edition.)
Gracias, Juan. Good idea on the daily Gospel. I’ll put my wife on the lookout for something from the local thrift stores.