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Friday, February 5, 2010

Learning Spanish

Since Lulu and I plan to spend many, many years in Mexico and Central
America, it would be silly not to try to speak the local language.
Granted that in most of the towns that cruising sailors frequent much
of the population speaks very good English, but still there will be
the occasional villages where no one speaks English. Besides, it just
seems right to be able to converse with the locals in their own
tongue. Toward this goal, we have taken quite a number of Spanish
classes over the years. Of course we both had high school or junior
high school Spanish but that was a really long time ago. I was,
however, amazed at how much of it came back to me when I first started
attending some weekly brown bag Spanish lessons at work a number of
years ago. We also attended some evening Conversational Spanish
classes put on by the community college at Silverton High School. Our
big plunge was when we celebrated our 25th anniversary (back in 2002
in case you're curious) by spending 3 weeks in La Paz, Baja California
Sur, attending a Spanish immersion school. The idea was to live with
a local family and attend class for 4 hours a day. The rest of the
day would be spent visiting with your host family (en español, por
supuesto) as well as seeing the local sights. We dutifully attended
class every morning and tried to converse with our hosts, Antonio and
Cecelia in Spanish. Trouble was, our Spanish was so bad and their
English was so good and we genuinely liked each other. So, unless we
wanted to talk endlessly about how good Cecelia's cooking was (and it
really was) or what funny guy Antonio was (and he really was), we
naturally reverted to English. Made for a great visit but we didn't
learn an awful lot of Spanish. And, I must add, this was entirely our
fault. Antonio and Cecelia (ESPECIALLY Cecelia) really tried.

So, we were really pleased when Rosemary, one of my Aquarium shift-
mates, told us about a Spanish class she was taking at the local
Centro de Ayuda (Help Center) on Thursday evenings. I stopped by the
center and talked to Jorge about joining the class. He told me that
it's a sort of "survival Spanish" class. He strives to teach us
enough to be understood and, more importantly, to understand what
we're hearing, but doesn't delve deeply into the grammar rules, etc.
We went to our second session last night and this looks like it's
going to be a very helpful class. I'm not sure when the sessions
started but we're definitely not counting, or learning our colors or
even conjugating verbs except as needed to understand what we're
reading or to get our point across when saying something. Jorge's
emphasis is on trying to train our ears to hear Spanish. If you've
ever taken a Spanish class and then tuned in to a Mexican radio
station or eavesdropped on a conversation in Spanish, you know how
hard this can be. You pick up the occasional word that you're
familiar with but the rest just seems to run together. Don't blame it
on "they speak too fast". Think about how fast you speak English.
Probably doesn't seem fast to you but try slowing it down to
the word by word speed that you want to
hear Spanish spoken in so that you can
understand it. The problem is that we're just not used to
hearing the sounds and identifying them as words. This takes
practice. Can't remember for sure what Jorge said last night but it
was something like several hundred hours of listening was required
before you start to get good at it. He sent us home with a CD full of
a bunch of stories told in Spanish and they're not all told by
Mexicans. There are also speakers from Spain, Colombia, Venezuela,
Cuba, etc. so that we can get used to the different accents. Methinks
this is going to be good. The library also carries lots of foreign
language movies. I checked out a Cuban movie called "Hello,
Hemingway" to start. I think we'll try watching it (in Spanish) with
the Spanish subtitles turned on so that we can start to associate the
sounds with the words, although that may not be the right way to go.
The CD that Jorge passed out also contains pdf files of the stories
but he advised us against printing them out yet so maybe we should
just watch the movie w/o subtitles and see how it goes.

Our inspirations that keep us going include our nephew Jaxon and our
friends Jason and Deanna. Jaxon, armed only with a little bit of high
school Spanish, spent a year of high school in Spain. He was
surrounded by non-English speakers and was expected to do all the same
stuff that the local high school kids did (homework, tests, contribute
in class, converse with his host family, etc). He has told us that
after a certain period of time (can't remember how long he said for
sure) things just sort of "clicked in" and everything he'd been taught
suddenly made sense and he began to gain fluency. Jason and Deanna
met in Texas while they were both on a mission for the LDS church.
They spent their days proselytizing to the Spanish-speaking community
in a small Texas town. The LDS church has developed some very
impressive language-teaching techniques judging from what I've seen of
some of their returned missionaries. I don't know how much Spanish
either Jason or Deanna had taken in high school. We didn't know Jason
then but we knew Deanna and I don't remember her taking much, if any,
high school Spanish. Armed with their 6 week (or so) LDS class they
hit the streets. By the time they returned they were both quite fluent.

Besides our other resources, a boater we met on "A" dock loaned us a
copy of "Spanish for Cruisers". We'll definitely have to get our own
copy. You can spend a lot of time learning to speak Spanish and still
be caught short when you go to the local repair shop and have to ask
for a "packing gland" or a "glow plug" or you need repairs made on
your "working jib". Kathy Parsons has gathered all of these
specialized words together along with a bunch of essential phrases and
such into a nice little spiral-bound book that looks to me like a must-
have for sailors cruising in Latin America. We're also going to each
get a little electronic Spanish/English dictionary to carry with us.
They're cheap and small. They wouldn't be very useful for trying to
form a sentence in any kind of reasonable time, but we're hoping
they'll be useful for coming up with the occasional word that we need
to finish a thought. And they're easier to use than carrying around
an actual bound dictionary.

So, wish us luck and hasta luego.

PS: I'm also sending a copy of this to Antonio y Cecelia, so this last
part is just so they'll know who the heck this e-mail is from:

Hola Antonio y Cecelia. Es Lulu y Esteban. Esperamos a ver ustedes
en noviembre o deciembre cuando nos visitamos La Paz en nuestra yate.
Si quieren, leen nuestra blog a http://yodersafloat.blogspot.com .
Hasta la vista.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I spent too much time in my high school Spanish classes daydreaming about Miss Landis the teacher. Blonde hair blue eyes and mini skirts! Don't remember a bit of Spanish from class. They even wanted to put me in special ed because I drooled so much, but then all the rest of the boys did the same so they let me go on. That teacher sounds perfect for your needs. He must be sharp. Still enjoying the blog, Ken

Anonymous said...

oh sure... you just wanted to spell out your name " Esteban" cause it sounds so purdy....and fancy! And of course...there is yet another "needed" piece of equipement you just gotta have .... the good ole language converter!!! FI

Anonymous said...

Some thoughts about what is happening here that i can see.... Steve is spending quite a bit of time telling us stories... explaining all his new terminology.... teasing us with his new must haves..... "equipment" as it were....and and further adding fun to his blog..and no one that i can see is celebrating his humor.... you know he delights in a bit of come back ... so come on fellow "yoder a float" readers... lets give steve something to ponder... god knows he has enough time to.... and i am sure we will get it back ten fold... biblically speaking.... FI

Steve & Lulu said...

Lookie here F-Eye; I happen to be a very busy guy. Why just today I went to the store and the library and then I walked on the beach and now I'm checking my e-mail and it's only 4:30 PM. Yesterday I listened to Radio Australia in the morning just to make sure my SSB radio was working and then I did some other time-consuming thing that I can't remember. But I'm sure it kept me very very busy. Oh yeah, I bought the language converter. Pretty much a pedazo de mierda.


PS: Ken: I had a teacher like that. I think she taught English (or history, who can remember?) when I was in 7th grade. WHAT A BABE! Looking back, she was probably all of 22 at the time.

Bethany said...

I am impressed! I wish I'd paid more attention in high school Spanish classes. Now I'm thinking about taking classes here. I was really astounded at how quickly Spanish came back to both Sean and me when we went to Mexico, but it wasn't enough to be conversant. And a few months ago when I had a group of Mexican journalists here, I was able to talk with them in Spanish but I had to really think about what I wanted to say and form it in my head before I said anything. That does not make for a very free-flowing conversation.

I've found some Spanish podcasts on iTunes, but I really think it's going to take more than listening to podcasts to get conversant. Sean and I try to talk to Emma and Abbi in Spanish at home so maybe they'll have a little jump on it when it's their turn to learn. =)