Friday, October 7, 2011

Roland Saint-Laurent Vs. The Spanish Language, Take 27

Spanish has always been a language that has confounded and tormented me. Throughout my life, it’s always been there, creeping on me and laughing in my face. My dad’s Mexican, with English as his second language. Half of my family is Mexican and speaks Spanish, with a large number of them completely monolingual in Spanish. For whatever reason, none of them ever saw fit to speak to me exclusively in Spanish, at least to the point where I’d gain some basic, rudimentary understanding of the language. Therefore, when I took my first Spanish class in high school, I was diving in fresh, the same as the Chinese kids who were in there. The only things I retained from that class were a stupid rhyme we did to practice vowels, the alphabet, some numbers, and the memory of seeing my alcoholic Spanish teacher pouring a clear liquid from one container into his bottle of orange juice.

The next time I took Spanish was a couple years later at a community college. It was a summer class and was four hours per day, due to the shortened schedule. Aside from learning the basics in that class, one of the biggest memories I have is how immature everyone was there. The students seemed to be in that middle period, where they still have that high school attitude but are transitioning into college douchebags. In addition to hearing a rock en español Smiths cover, my biggest memory is of doing my final presentation on lucha libre and showing a clip from a Santo movie as a demonstration of Mexican wrestling excellence.

All this time I was still kind of half-assing it. I took Spanish 2 during another semester, and that’s when I really started learning the language. I like to think of this as the peak of my Spanish learning life, because not only was I learning more of the structure of the language, but I was also trying really hard at this point, and even had small conversations with coworkers. I was rocking some flashcards, writing translations to ridiculous sentences I could think up, and was basically ramming information into my head. Most of what I maintained was from those classes and that period of time, and a lot of it stuck with me, even when I abandoned Spanish and plunged head-on into French.

The last proper Spanish class I took was probably ten years ago, but in the time since then I’ve listened to audio courses and have done some independent learning. I can understand a decent amount of spoken Spanish, but if I didn’t stop, I don’t have any doubt that I’d be fluent by now. I don’t regret learning French, but I do regret not at least making a consistent, daily effort to learn at least one new thing in Spanish every day. Those days would add up and I’d be in a much better position than I am now.

My goal is to be fluent by the end of next year. Even if it doesn’t happen, just trying for it leaves me in a better position than I’m in now with the language. Right now I’m watching a ton of El Chavo shows because 1) it kicks ass, and 2) it’s Spanish for Spanish speakers and I’m actively trying to understand it because I want to get more of the jokes. I’ve also been listening to the Michel Thomas programs and transcribing the sentences by hand, which has helped me retain them a hell of a lot better than just listening to them. I’m not really interested in going over the grammar books again, but there are a bunch of constructions that I forgot, and I’ll be consulting my Idiots Guide to Intermediate Spanish to brush up on them, especially the conditional and subjunctive. I’m also going to read for pleasure and not try to stop and define every single word. Because I already read the books and know the plots, I’m going to read the Harry Potter series in Spanish. They were an impulse buy years ago, and I’m glad I still have them. Finally, I’m going to read, and re-read, and re-read again my all-time favorite language learning book, Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish. This book is so great that I wish there was a version for French and every other language I’m interested in.

Can I be fluent by the end of next year, or will I puss out again? Stay tuned!