I took three years of Spanish in high school. Early in my studies, I started feeling pretty confident. So much so that I tried showing off to the slightly older (and very attractive) sister of my best friend.
Doggone! How was I supposed to know that their father had been stationed in Puerto Rico long enough for her to know Spanish better than I ever would?
I learned two things from that experience. Don’t show off about my Spanish, and don’t show off—period. Maybe that’s why I don’t compare myself to other guitar players. If someone tells me I’m good, I’ll thank them graciously, but I know better than to let it go to my head.
But we weren’t talking about my guitar playing.
When I entered junior college, they told me I needed one year of a foreign language. They didn’t offer a second year Spanish course, and they weren’t about to let somebody who’d studied it three years in high school meet the requirements with the first year course.
So, out of necessity, I started taking first year French. I hated it, and I could easily see it ruining my 3+ GPA.
But one of my instructors, Mr. Kirkconnell, befriended me and arranged to teach a second year class with me as his only student. Now THAT was something else, even if he did miss a lot of classes.
Flash forward forty years or so. I was writing Found in Translation and needed to use some authentic Spanish. With a little help from the Internet, I was able to do what I needed to do.
Flash forward to a month ago, when I first learned about my church’s upcoming mission trip to Nicaragua. Hmm. Perfect time to brush up on my Spanish, huh?
I bought a grammar refresher book. From going through just the first fifty pages, I discovered how much I hadn’t learned in high school, much less forgotten. So I abandoned that book in favor of a Spanish-English dictionary and a little Dummies book of useful Spanish phrases.
I wasn’t set, but I was as set as I’d ever be.
We arrived in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. The signs were pretty easy to figure out—for the greater part.
But spoken Spanish? Forget it! Even if I didn’t Have a hearing problem, I couldn’t listen fast enough to follow it. So I got real good at saying, “Lo siento” (“I’m sorry”), “No comprendo” (“I don’t understand”), and “Donde es el bano?” (“Where’s the bathroom?”). I didn’t bother with “No tan rapido, por favor” (“Not so fast, please”) because I knew it wouldn’t help.
I’ve concluded that part of the problem is the same thing that makes Spanish such a beautiful language to listen to (if one doesn’t need to know what’s being said): The words basically roll together in such a way that somebody like me can’t easily separate them into individual words.
I’m glad I brushed up on my Spanish, though. But if I get to go to Nicaragua again, I hope I’ll at least have a larger vocabulary. Maybe I’ll get a little further than “Hola” (“Hello” or “Hi”), even if I still can’t understand what the person I’m trying to talk to says back.
What’s your experience with a foreign language? Or are you still working on English?
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By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.
Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.