Monday, June 18, 2007

¡Es hora para mí de estudiar español otra vez!

Yup, time to crack the books and brush up the little Spanish I know. Because, as I mentioned briefly in another post: I'm going to Mexico!

It may be ill-advised what with the not-working and such, but my friend Gary wanted to go and how could I refuse? (Splitting the cost of the trip made it easy for me to rationalize the expense - but let's face it: I didn't need much encouragement!)

We're only going for 7 days, but Gary will probably be happier that way as I may be able to contain my innate bitchiness for that long. Of course in Mexico I'm a LOT more relaxed so the bitch may just disappear. Oh... oh... hang on, wait -- I feel hysterical laughter coming on.... whew... wow, that was a good one. *ahhhhh* Better now.

I have 28 days to attempt to regain my Level 2 Spanish. Oh sure, no problem! It's me and Pimsleur every day until we get on the plane. That should make me fluent. Stop, stop... that laughter is bubbling up again. Okay. Control. Calm. Deep breath. It's all good.

I really loved the Spanish classes I took, but as often happens when you study a new language, if you don't have someone to practice with it all sort of dissipates. I try to watch Spanish television, when I rent a movie that has Spanish subtitles or dubbing I turn that on, and I always eavesdrop on conversations on buses or trains to see if I can get the gist of things from native speakers who are actually conversing at a normal speed (listening to recorded lessons... well, they slow it down for you quite a bit). I'm actually really good at understanding what is said, this happened when I was learning ASL (American Sign Language) as well. My comprehension is oddly acute. My ability to communicate MY words is the problem. That's the thing that you need a partner to practice with. Someone to correct your pronunciation (or your signing) and let you know if you're on the right track. In a pinch with Spanish I suppose I could try writing it out, but that's not the best course of action. Picture it: you're drowning in the gorgeous Caribbean Ocean and want to get someone to help you. Hang on, let me grab a pencil. Does anyone have a piece of paper... no? Okay, drowning now. Never mind.

See. You need to be able to get that message out FAST.

I know I don't really need to be proficient. The place we're staying is staffed by the most multi-lingual people I have ever met: they all seem to be fluent in a minimum of 4 languages! Impressive? Yeah, a little bit. I mean there are days when ONE language has me stumped!

Still I'm going to see how much of what I learned can be refreshed, because although it might not be a necessity, it certainly is helpful. And respectful of the country and people you are visiting. Just knowing words like "exit" when you arrive at the airport makes the experience of traveling in a different country a little easier. Plus when is it not fun to learn new things?

On one of my trips to Mexico I had a cab driver whose English was as good as my Spanish. We chatted the whole trip, each of us trying to practice the other's language. We didn't get very far, but it was fun to try. On another cab ride I had a driver who was fluent in English and Spanish and had a little Maya (his dad taught him). He taught me about a dozen Mayan words and explained easy phonetic ways to remember them and their meanings and derivations! Now THAT was a great cab ride!

Americans tend to be so closed-minded about learning any language other than English that it's just embarrassing. What's wrong with learning to communicate in other languages? My father actually grew up speaking two languages: Polish and English. How great is that? Well... not so great to him apparently.

He went to a Polish language school in Queens. He grew up in the Polish ghetto and Polish was the language he knew best (though of course he also knew English). But when he moved from elementary school to middle school he had a bad experience that soured him on being bi-lingual: the teacher called attendance.

She called his name: "Joseph". He did not answer. She called it again. And again. Think "Bueller. Bueller. Bueller." Finally he 'got' that it was him she was calling. It's not that he didn't know his own name (hey, this isn't a Polish joke!), it was that the teacher was pronouncing "Joseph" in ENGLISH. My poor dad didn't recognize it! He was "Yusef" at home. Who was this "Joseph" character the teacher kept calling???? Naturally the kids laughed. And that was it for my dad. After that he slowly disengaged from speaking Polish, wouldn't do it. English only. Such a pity really, because I might have grown up learning it too. As it turns out I know far more French, Spanish, ASL and even GREEK than I do Polish. (And believe me: I don't know much of THOSE!) Ah well, c'est la vie, que será, εντάξει. I'm going to Mexico and whatever language you say that in, it's MUY fantástico to me!!


whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Important words:

Bana = bathroom
Cerveza = beer
Playa = beach

That is just awful about your Dad. Kids are so mean.

Lizard Princess said...

I have heard that in many of the bigger cities, most people know some english, too so you should be all right!
Gaze at the ocean longingly for me, will ya?
Sounds like fun!

Gary said...


As someone who has studied second language acquisition extensively (I teach in a bilingual dual language school and am currently taking a course in bilingual/ESL programs and theory of second language development) I can assure you that your situation in learning Spanish is quite the norm. There is always a ‘silent period’ in language development when the learner is given comprehensible input but unable to provide comprehensible output. Cummins (1979) found that it takes at least two years – and as many as five - to develop everyday conversational language or basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS). This is also influenced by the cognitive demands and context of the setting.

It is not surprising about your father either. My father had a similar situation with German. That was all he knew when he entered school and societal pressure made him all but forget it as he became acculturated into American society. I really have some issues with America’s treatment of immigrants and sojourners. We really apply a deficit model to them which diminishes self worth and promotes failure in our schools. The No Child Left Behind (2001) legislation has done so much damage in so many ways.

Anyway, I just meant this comment as a support of you and your efforts (but I got carried away, I must have a paper to write!)

Joy said...

Whim - those would be the key words. It's all good. :)

Princess - it seems every other country but the U.S. embraces at least some bi-lingualism. I didn't meet anyone in Mexico who didn't know at least basic English - I just wish I knew more than 'less than basic' Spanish so I don't come off as an 'ugly American'. :)

Gary - go write your paper, you will not get a grade from me!! Procrastinator!! :)