a wandering woman writes

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Forget Botox - Language lessons are the fountain of youth

I'm learning my trees.

Every once in a while (ok, often) I jump head first into a new conversation only to discover that I have NONE, absolutely NONE of the required vocabulary. I learn every day what few monolingual people seem to realize.

That fluent is a really big word.

And Yes, I speak Spanish comes in a thousand shades of well, pretty much.

Ever been there? You're sailing along, happy little local-language-speaking expat that you are, till wompf! you run right into it. I've never talked about garden tools, you realize as you head upstairs to borrow a screwdriver. Or try obscure body parts. The small of your back, anyone? Nape of your neck? Shoulder blade????

Take, for example, trees. Ordinary every day part of your life trees. Oak? Maple? Fir? You planted a what in your yard?

All of that to introduce:

7 ways learning Spanish is keeping me younger than any LA surgeon ever could

1
Well, as I said, I'm 42 and I'm learning my trees.

How old does that make me in Spanish language acquisition, about 4?

After trees I want to learn my animal sounds. I write a decent memo, I read literature, and I've got the whole subjunctive deal more or less covered, but nobody ever stopped to teach me that Spanish horses say hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.

That's pronounced heeeeeeeeee if your phonetics are of the English persuasion, by the way. And dogs? guau guau.

And should I suddenly find myself with a small child...and, for example, a duck???? What then? Animals sounds will be essential.

When I'm a little older, Bego's going to teach me to swear.

2
Comic books! When you first start learning a language, you read childrens' books, then, ok, they hand you some boring school stuff to read, grammar and literature and all that, but later, when you just want to figure out how to sound less like a book and more like your native friends, you get to read comic books! Comic books!

I'm working my way through the adventures of Mortadelo and Filemon, 2 "T.I.A." secret agents who find their way out of trouble by jumping into one of their countless and always-ready disguises at just the right moment. In my last episode, our heroes travelled to Tirania to retrieve a stolen vial of a secret bug-expanding potion developed by Dr. Bacterio. Picture 30 foot grasshoppers.

I use to run a $65 million business unit and I'm now happily racing home to catch up on Dr. Bacterio.

3
In language learning, laughing is allowed. Even encouraged. At yourself, at fellow non-natives who make errors, at what your r's and j's sound like after a long day in the trenches.

4
Singing silly songs helps you learn faster. Tongue twisters, ditto. I've found the Spanish particularly generous with tongue twisters. Every time my r's fail, Ana gives me a knowing look as she says, in the taunting voice of a cool 11 year old who's just executed the perfect cartwheel in front of her nerdy friend who's completely missed hers:

Rápido corren los carros cargados de azucar al ferrocarril.

Fine, she has r's. I got a better score on the math test yesterday.

5
Singing along with the radio helps. So does reading aloud, even if you run into the new neighbors heading out to work in the morning and just know they overheard the live Mortadelo and Filemon reading the night before. The reading when you decided to really work on intonation. In Dr. Bacterio's voice.

6
And one that makes me just want to start a whole other list:

Why learning a language is better than a corporate VP job

When you're not a native speaker, no one expects you to know ANYTHING. You get to ask all the stupid questions you want. And they seem to like it.

OK what's THAT in Spanish?
you ask, pointing to the object of your choice, often the unidentified pincho that may be artichokes or may be chopped pig's ears...or....the possibilities are endless.

At least you'll know how to pronounce it.

Never a need to do the boardroom shuffle while you pretend to have a clue about what a client or your CEO is blabbering about.

7
You get to celebrate the small victories. And you get to take naps, or the language learning equivalent.

Some days my r's just leave, for example. I try to be considerate by announcing it, particularly at work:

Atención. My r's have now left for the day. We'll carry on without them, thank you.

Then I surprise myself and spit out a sentence like Ana's twister (Rápido corren..) and all those sweet little r's just rrrrrrrrroll off my tongue and leap into midair.

That's a small victory. And I promise you it feels better than 20% annual growth 5 years in a row.

At least to me.

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6 Comments:

  • After 15 years living in in South American, my fluent spanish is brought to reality everytime my kids and their friends are around me.

    It's one thing to speak with adults--but the youth of today seem to speak another language entirely. And it makes me realize that I will never truly be Ecuadorian.

    By Blogger chris Irwin, at 11:19 PM  

  • Ah, this is brilliant! Because I can see that learning Spanish is NOTHING like learning French or Arabic. I think it will be much more fun learning Spanish - although a long hard road! I'm so glad I've found your blog.

    By Blogger paris parfait, at 11:41 PM  

  • I'm at year 1.5 here in Mexico, and my Spanish is pretty good, but I really resonate to "fluent" being a really big word. Having to teach in the language makes for great fun, but can be a daunting task as well. I'm glad to work with university students (where you can usually ask "what is THAT?" with gleeful abandon and where language play is always in play) and to have nice native friends who help me along. Sometimes the "ferrocarril" does crash however, and that keeps you humble!

    By Anonymous Peter, at 7:34 AM  

  • LOL.
    Yep that's what it does, Peter. Keeps you humble.

    I live in Spanish, spent 2 years managing a team in it, now communicate with my clients in it...but now and then, I still run straight into a pool of vocab I know NOTHING about- This week it happened when I started to tell a funny story about a manual transmission. I don't have a car. When do I talk about car parts???? AAARGH!
    SO now I know cars and move on to the next mystery.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 4:22 PM  

  • LOL.
    Yep that's what it does, Peter. Keeps you humble.

    I live in Spanish, spent 2 years managing a team in it, now communicate with my clients in it...but now and then, I still run straight into a pool of vocab I know NOTHING about- This week it happened when I started to tell a funny story about a manual transmission. I don't have a car. When do I talk about car parts???? AAARGH!
    SO now I know cars and move on to the next mystery.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 4:23 PM  

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    By Anonymous Botox Prescription Information, at 9:58 AM  

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