Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Yo no hablo español...yet.

I decided that I should learn a little Spanish.  In case I ever decide to re-locate to Costa Rica or something like that. The only language my little rural Georgia high school offered was Spanish. I didn't want to take Spanish, I wanted to take French. So I refused. And they let that slide, even though it was a graduation requirement for everyone else on the college track. When you're the top student in your grade at a small, poor school they let you get away with things they shouldn't allow. Especially when that student is awfully damned pig-headed - I also refused to take P.E. In a weird twist of fate, I went off to boarding school in Switzerland my senior year and lived in a French-speaking town. As the sole sixth-form kid without any background in the language at all, I was the only student in the class. Just me and Mme. DeWolff, an Austrian married to a Belgian. What French I do know is inflected with the Swiss sing-song intonation and a little Germanic guttural-ness. But in these parts, French isn't all that useful. Barring Canada getting a militaristic bee in its bonnet and invading southward, Spanish is more likely to come in handy. I'm starting with the iPad app Duolingo, because it's convenient and covers basics. And because it has a cute little owl icon. And mostly because it's free.
Each lesson has several different exercises - choosing a word from a set of photos, translating Spanish to English and vice versa, multiple choice, and repeating sentences into a microphone to be checked. You can have the sentences spoken in a slowed-down version by tapping that little tortuga, but I'm trying to avoid that because I know I won't encounter a slow-speaking Hispanic anywhere in this world.
So far I've covered some basic phrases, foods, animals and learned plurals for all those words. I know that English is an irregular language and considered difficult to master, but at least we don't assign gender to non-gendered objects.  Nevertheless, I can now tell you that I drink wine or we read newspapers or penguins eat rice (I swear I'm not making that up) or the boys write letters. I've said the word manzana more times than I care to, remember the silly upside down exclamation point, and I'm rolling my r's.
El pájaro seems happy with my persistence. I finished through to level 7 and then went back and repeated all the lessons again to help cement it in my decrepit 51-year-old brain. My ex-husband took a pure-science load to meet all his undergrad requirements for vet school in three years and was even more at sea than I was when we went to Mexico for our honeymoon twenty-five years ago. We went to one night of a non-credit conversational Spanish class at UVA and dropped out because everyone else was so serious and there was homework. Armed, then, with virtually no Spanish, we headed off for a month to Cuernavaca and Isla Mujeres. Once there, I stood by giggling as he told one Mexican after another, "Tú no hablas español."  After a few days I finally said, "Did you know you're telling them they don't speak Spanish?"
Occasionally the French tucked away in the dark recesses of my mind intrudes. Apparently, une fraise is not an acceptable substitute for una fresa. Well, whatever.
All things considered, though, it's been a bit easier than I was expecting. So far, so bueno.

46 comments:

  1. Way to go! I never took a language. Back in my day if you were not going to college you didn't have to take one. I didn't know you lived in Switzerland for a year. Hope it was a good year for you. That's a great phone app.

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    1. That year in Switzerland was a huge adjustment but also held many wonderful experiences. I'm glad I had the chance to go.

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  2. There is a free language learning app on IPad? I’ll have to investigate instantly.

    By the way, English is a very easy language to learn because it has almost no serious grammar. I learned the basics standing on my head, listening to British Forces Network in Germany when I was a child. It’s much easier than French.

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    1. ANY language is easy for children to learn. Children's' brains are so much more plastic. And English tends to be easier for German and Dutch speakers because they are related languages.

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  3. I think that's AWESOME!!!! Because I don't have an iPhone (let alone a cell phone), and it just blows me away all the really cool apps you can get!

    And this made me laugh...

    "Especially when that student is awfully damned pig-headed - I also refused to take P.E."

    Meeeeeeeeee too! I couldn't stand taking P.E., but in my high school you had to. However, when I moved to Florida (right before my Senior year) the high school I attended there gave you the option not to take P.E., so I took Drama.

    I took two years of Italian in my Sophomore and Junior years and I got straight A's, but that's only because the teacher (Mrs. Della Porta) liked me and was kind. Honestly though, I was not a very good student. I'm one of those people who I think could learn a language if I lived in the country and just learned it through living.

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    1. I use it on my iPad, because of the bigger keyboard.

      My argument for P.E. was that I was already in marching band and that should count. Of course at the boarding school every student had to take a PE every quarter, so I took swimming, track, ice skating and skiing.

      If you are immersed in a language that helps. It was useful to me to have to shop in stores where they only spoke French.

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  4. ha. i have two years spanish experience from high school...enough to get me in trouble and find a bathroom...its funny how most of what i remember are the curse words...

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    1. I try to learn a little of the language of any country I visit. I have a handful of words in Spanish, Swahili, German, and Arabic, among others..

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  5. Good for you. It's supposed to keep our brain cells sharp to learn new things that require cognitive thinking. I should probably give it a try. God knows, my brains cells are more than a little fuzzy these days.

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    1. I have read that learning new things can help prevent Alzheimer's, so that alone (watching my father's decline with the disease) is motivation for me.

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  6. Amazeballz at you! I had to take 5 languages in high school but Spanish was missing. One of my bros is fluent but it took him forever w/ immersions, etc. He said it's a much trickier language than one would think, a lot harder than Italian which I did speak, no practice in a while though :(
    Brava!
    XO
    WWW

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    1. 5 languages! Of course, most of the world is better than the US about making kids learn other languages.

      My father told me he took Italian because he'd heard it was the easiest language to learn.

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  7. I had seven years of French, so I'm still able to read it, for the most part. My MIL went to high school in a Spanish speaking country and became a high school Spanish teacher. I'm always bemused that not one of her five children can speak any Spanish whatsoever.

    I hope this means some vacations to warmer climates for you!

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    1. I've really lost most of it, although I learned enough in high school to get around the town okay.

      I have known people who had some other language as their first language and still didn't teach it to their kids. Seems sad to me.

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  8. Good for you. I think I've taken at least 4 different Spanish university-level classes over the decades. I've retained little, if any. I like to think that I'm not better in Espanol is that the eldest is fluent, and was my interpreter on trips.

    On the other hand, I lived in Japan for a year, worked in a Japanese hospital with no English-speaking colleagues, and was pretty conversant in 4 months. I was younger, which you've pointed out as important.

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    1. When I was in Tanzania for just ten days, I listened carefully to everything our guide said in Swahili when he'd talk to other people. After one stop I said, "So were you telling them you were sorry for them about their truck?" And he laughed and said, "I think you're learning a little too much! I need to switch to my tribal language."

      Youth is a huge help, that's for sure.

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  9. Nice work, Señora. Sounds like a fun project, and a wise one as I am fairly sure you are safe in the assumption that Canada probably won't be launching a military attack against the USA any time soon. (But the notion of it made me giggle. Our Prime Minister wants to be American so badly the whole nation aches for him.)

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    1. Oh, that's funny. I wonder why he wants that? Maybe it's so he can retire to Florida.

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    2. Probably. Since his mid-thirties he's looked like he would be more at home on a shuffleboard court than in Parliament.

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  10. Good for you!! You don't have to go to Costa Rica, LOL, just come to the part of San Diego County I live in. Everyone speaks Spanish here (though I don't, I really should learn it).

    betty

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    1. We have a growing Hispanic population here, too, because of the agriculture. But I doubt I'ld be able to become fluent enough to do therapy in another language.

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  11. Is it something to do with the New Year? I have been sussing out various online language courses: want to brush up my German, keep up my French, begin to learn Italian and start Swedish with a view to an immersion course in 2015, Well, my eyes have always been bigger than my stomach. But I must go and look at your app: so far I have been looking at Rosetta Stone and Babbel but both demand payment. Good luck and have fun:)

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    1. More for me with the weather and recent events. It's a hedge against despair!

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  12. Oh that looks good. I want to brush up what there ever was of my German. I will check out whether Duolingo works on a PC or iphone.

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    1. I don't know about a PC, but it definitely works on an iPhone because I have the app there, too.

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  13. About twenty years ago we holidayed in Turkey and loved it so much we went back for the next three years. After the second year we decided it would be a good idea to learn to speak Turkish and did so by way of listening to tapes in the car on the way to work every morning. Our Turkish was passable and impressed the locals, we could actually understand more than we could speak.

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    1. PS We've forgotten most of it now! ;)

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    2. Hearing it regularly makes a difference. The thing that helped me the most with French was having to speak it in restaurants and stores. And I think comprehension generally outpaces the ability to produce a language. That's true even with babies learning their native language.

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  14. Good that you're making progress with learning Spanish. That free app sounds excellent. I know quite a lot of Italian but I'm in no way fluent as I've never had a chance to immerse myself in an Italian community where I would have to speak it all the time. I think all schools should be bilingual, with the students having to speak a second language at all times. Especially in the UK where the widespread monolingualism is a disgrace.

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    1. The US is worse, I'm pretty sure, about monolingualism. Although that may change with the growing Hispanic population. Here schools don't offer a second language until high school, when the prime window for language acquisition has already passed.

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  15. Language learning is such the great challenge, and I admire your dedication to working with the little owl. May you soon be able to order a beer in all of South and Central America!

    Now I really want more technology, so I can use these apps, too.

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    1. Una cerveza, por favor! See, I'm already there.

      Apps are fun and there are so many cool free ones.

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  16. " cute little owl icon" - that makes a difference?
    thanks for reviewing this. we might be getting an I-pad soon. The fun way to learn Spanish is to visit one of the warm countries that speak it.
    bueno

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    1. Yes, the cute owl is key.

      But more fun if you know a little before you go. I always do that when I'm traveling.

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  17. Boy, I've tried to learn Spanish a dozen times over the years and each time dropped out. Maybe this program is the key! I found the few times when I was in Mexico (also Isla Mujares) that I could learn to ask a question in Spanish but I couldn't understand the answer. I finally got to where I would hold out a wad of money and they took what they thought was fair. I never felt cheated.

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    1. We always joked that we never paid more than twice what anything was worth while we were there.

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  18. Good for you. I took Spanish in high school and undergrad, but it never really stuck. When I was policing, my broken espanol focused on telling fellows to put their beer on the car and show me their hands.

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    1. My high school French served me well, but I was younger then.

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  19. I took two years of Spanish and I grew up in an area where there was a very large Hispanic population so I'm used to hearing it and can pick up some words but not enough to actually get by.

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    1. It definitely helps to hear it frequently.

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  20. I've lived in France for 42 years, and speak French fluently enough to converse on any subject. But that wasn't always the case. Out in the country, it's of little use knowing how to say 'My Uncles book is on my Aunt's desk'; one needs to know a totally different vocabulary; especially to do with agriculture, drainage, and building.

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    1. Even if I decide to re-locate, I don't think building/agricultural vocabulary is what I need. Foods, for grocery shopping, and other every day stuff ot get around.

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  21. I know enough Spanish to be able to read a children's book, but I miss too much, and have had some really bad moments at check out counters when "despacio, por favor" made no difference. It seems an accent can make a huge difference.

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    1. That is what I like about the program - I also get to hear someone pronouncing all the words and I can mimic that.

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  22. i studied both french and spanish for 4 years then found myself at the end of a guard's rifle in the caracas airport and the only thing i could must was, "hables ingles, por favor?" weapons affect my brain function.

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    1. French I learned young enough for it to be a little easier for me. But having a weapon involved changes everything.

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