Hola. Me llamo Cheri. Soy de Estados Unidos, de Seattle. Tengo cuarenta y tres años. Cuantos años tienes? Me gusta leer. ¿Qué te gusta? Voy a ir escribir, este tarde. Y tu?
Fifteen years ago I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be fun to travel to a spanish-speaking country and learn Spanish? It took a while to get here, but today will be my eighth day of immersion, and I’m full of fresh opinions about language learning.
- Duolingo is close to useless.
- Reading, speaking, listening, and writing are separate skills that progress at different rates.
- Reading and writing are easy for me. Speaking and listening? más difícil
- Learning a language is a “blurry” thing.
I’ve been “dinking around” with Spanish for years and years. I knew a few hundred words, and some basic sentences, and I could scan a simple news article and capture some of the gist. Despite my “self-study” I found myself completely tongue-tied my first week of class. My brain felt like it was made of stiff glue, and my tongue couldn’t quite form the shapes that had seemed so clear in my mind.
During our first week, we all struggled to say basic things. My logical mind says “this shouldn’t be so hard” yet speaking and listening are entirely different skills than writing and reading. So by the end of the first week, we can introduce ourselves, say our ages, where we are from, and so on.
On paper, I could learn these things in twenty minutes. But responding correctly? Pronouncing the vowels? Listening to the variations in the questions? Conjugating the person and number? It takes time to wrap your head, mouth, eyes, and ears around it all.
We’re doing class in masks (en español, mascarillas) so this adds an extra layer of trickiness. Word is that the indoor mask mandate will end in ten days, so that will help.
During our second week, we’re diving into our present tense conjugations. So many verbs! The moment we grasp the basics, (AR, ER, IR) they dump a small truckload of irregular verbs on us. We do worksheets, and practice, and on the page they make sense, but the moment I put the page away my mind blanks and I can’t remember any of them. The next day, after sleep, a handful seem lodged in my memory.
Leéis las palabras para cinco minutos cada noche, our instructor says. Read them for five minutes each night. You can’t memorize them all in one or two days, she says. After an hour of grinding our way through conjugations, she cajoles us into standing up and dancing the macarena. It’s ridiculous, but it gives us the energy to go on. P & I are the oldest people in our class by twenty years. We like our classmates. They’re mostly from Germany and Holland and their English is impressive.
As @patbak and I walk the streets to and from class, we practice our skimpy sentences. “Quieres un cafe?” “Si. Quiero cafe.” Patrick tries to say “The people are sad because it’s raining” but I don’t know the word for sad and he doesn’t know the word for because and we try to piece it together, probably wrongly.
We watch television with the subtitles on, and note a conjugated verb that I recognize. I see a verb root. I see a conjugated ending, but I don’t know the root of that word, but I can grasp the context. Here and there, I recognize a phrase. When we walk, I listen, but the locals speak quickly and I can only grasp a word or two.
I thought I knew some Spanish from Duolingo, but really all I knew was how to recognize some words. I didn’t speak Spanish at all!. Now, Spanish is blurry, but not entirely opaque. This feels like good progress for seven days of class. I start to wonder: how much can I learn in one month. In two?
PS: “Blurry” en español es Borroso/a.