Learning Another Language: Excuse #8


“Here speeching American.” – A sign in a Mallorca shop entrance

Everybody can learn to speak another language. You did it with English, right? Whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re always right. Even if you don’t plan to travel abroad, here’s an outstanding reason to start:

To Stave Off Alzheimer’s, Learn a Language?

After 7 weeks in Guatemala, I hope to leave the country speaking basic conversational Spanish. Part of this is so I can travel in South America and find work teaching English or art. Part is a curiosity about how I process the learning of a language.

I started learning French in grade school, and continued through high school. I wasn’t particularly adept, but I enjoyed it. A month as an exchange student in France was worth a couple of years of classroom learning. I studied French off and on since then, learning the most via trips to the country; turns out if you’re hungry or need a bathroom, the brain automatically remembers the necessary skills. I could read very well, writing was fairly easy, and speaking inspired the listener to switch to English. But I couldn’t understand more than a few words at a time, spoken very slowly, accompanied by frantic gestures.

Three years ago something clicked. I had been using the Pimsleur program to brush up on French and took weekly classes with a native French speaker. It was fun, but understanding was still a struggle. The more I tried grabbing at meanings, the more elusive they became.

I switched tactics of listening on that trip. My speaking skills had improved enough that Parisians answered me in French. Fast French. Instead of grabbing for meaning, I relaxed and let it come to me. A couple of days into the trip I asked for directions several times, totally understood the responses, and chalked it up to people speaking slowly and clearly.

Then I went to a dry cleaner with a pair of silk pants that I had hand washed, with terrible results. The woman at the counter gave me a tongue-lashing: What was I thinking, getting silk wet? There was nothing, absolutely nothing she could do, she couldn’t guarantee any success at all. She would try, but do not expect anything. I understood every word! I grinned as she berated my good sense, because it was all crystal clear!

Fluency in French is still a goal. I can understand af lot, and hold a reasonable conversation. I use a lot of workarounds to compensate for vocabulary gaps. Finally, I have gained some sort of comfort with French.

A different language is a different vision of life.  ~Federico Fellini

I believe it’s possible to learn as much Spanish in seven weeks as the amount of French learned in 35 years. The Spanish I know is mostly via Pimsleur Spanish I; this program works well for me because it’s based on auditory learning, my personal Waterloo. I’ve also picked up some vocabulary from Rosetta Stone, which I’ll continue using upon return to build vocabulary and grammar skills. In Guatemala I’ll be studying one-on-one with a teacher 6 hours each day, 5 days each week, for 6 weeks. I’m staying with local families and all activities (save blogging!) will be in Spanish. It’ll be interesting to be conscious of the learning process, and I suspect this consciousness will also make the learning easier.

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About ThesePartsUnknown

I write, I travel, I make art.
This entry was posted in French, language, Learning, Spanish and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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