A long ways travelled in Spanish, a long ways to go

I’ve come a long way in my study of Spanish from the days I tried to impress a Spanish-speaking friend with my scant knowledge of the language. We were at a little restaurant and I said: “paso el tacos por favor” (actually thinking it meant pass the tacos please).

I was informed that it was more like: I want to spend some time with tacos.

And I am not trying to teach Spanish here, but I guess maybe I could have said: me pase el tacos por favor. But as it turns out paso (which at the time I thought only meant pass) is the first person singular of pasar, which means to spend time.

But I did not mean to go into a Spanish lesson here and please don’t depend upon me in any way — I’m a kind of perpetual beginner.

The point here, if there is any, is that in order to become fluent in any language you have to actually use it in the real world, and use it a lot, and I should add read it too. I mean that is why so many of us are not as good at the English language as we should be — many of us do not read as much as we should. Worse, when we do read, we may be reading stuff written by people who are not well versed in the language either. I know. I used to work at small newspapers. Some of the most illiterate people you ever met work there (I won’t say what I was). No, you have to read stuff that you feel comfortable might have gone through an actual editing process by people who knew what they were doing.

(Of course in literature, grammar rules are sometimes broken, but ironically you cannot appreciate that unless you know the rule in the first place. And the assumption is the writer knew he or she was breaking the rule. Literary license, as it were.)

And good English (or good Spanish) is not just good for impressing people, it is important in proper communication. I have been in the trucking world for two decades, and most of the memos I have ever read are full of errors, sometimes embarrassing but sometimes just wrong. I mean the memos say the opposite of what was trying to be said. One knows from logic they have to be in error — but still. I mean why were they written in the first place?

But of course I am off the subject here.

I first enrolled in a Spanish class in high school but I was way too immature. I had no concept that when you go into a different language you just can’t transfer word for word. And that’s kind of strange I think because I feel I have some aptitude for foreign language — I guess something I have developed since those days.

One thing in my own life that has persuaded me that learning a foreign language has value is that I have gone from resentment to appreciation and a better feeling about others. I used to resent the use of Spanish on my job. I felt people were trying to hide behind it, or use it to talk behind my back or actually in front of me without me knowing what they are saying — and that all can be true but it is not always. But once you learn some of the lingo it is kind of neat to feel you are included and once you let on you know some, you are not as likely to encounter that secret nefarious use.

I knew almost no German when I was in the U.S. Army in Germany so many years ago. It put me at a major disadvantage when travelling outside of the army life. I on a couple of occasions travelled with a German speaker – a fellow soldier who grew up in a German-speaking household in the states. Things were so much more fun and exciting with his use of German, that is until I started Speaking English — the mood changed. Funny how people in a foreign land expect their own language to be used (or is it?).

Getting out there and speaking your new language is the only way but it is tough. Two things come to mind: one, once you start talking to someone they tend to talk back and you tend to not understand a thing they are saying. Two: lots of times the foreign speakers actually prefer to speak in English, either because it is a hassle trying to decipher your rudimentary use of their language or they want to let you know they are educated and multi-lingual. But you can’t let yourself be put off by that. Because if you spend much time in a foreign language environment, and that can be right here in the USA as well as another country, you will have many opportunities to use the new language and will find it rewarding.

The best thing or a definite added advantage perhaps about learning a new language is it helps you improve your own.

I forgot to say that I took up Spanish again when I returned to college in my 40s, then it lay dormant for a long time, and I finally picked it up again a little when I went into the trucking world where there is so much of it, and then went much deeper into it when I first visited Spain a few years ago, and then way deep when I took an intensive month-long course in Madrid last year. But I am way behind and trying desperately to catch up. I’m going to Spain in a couple of weeks for my third trip. No school this time but I hope a lot of communicating and enjoying the culture.

But as I was saying, in studying a foreign language, especially Spanish, you learn so much about English, because you have to re-acquaint yourself with grammar rules and the parts of speech and so on. And they take on more of a meaning because when you learned your native tongue you were basically copying what others said. But when you learn a foreign language you have to somehow transfer words and phrases from one language to the other and in doing that you must have some concept of grammar rules. And you find yourself actually understanding grammar a little better than you might have all that time ago in grade school.

But if I were to teach Spanish, I think for beginners I would concentrate on learning common phrases and getting them down pat and only then go into the grammar. I mean isn’t that how we learned English?

And by the way, I’m not an English-only person when it comes to the use of language in my native land, except I think English is our national language (although not by law) and must be learned and used by all citizens. It is an important part of our United States of America heritage and is vital for communication necessary to maintain our economy and ability to live with one another.

But take it from me, or not, travelling outside the USA is a lot more fun with some foreign language knowledge. I’ve done it both ways. I could have enjoyed Germany a lot more with some German language knowledge, and I have a lot of German blood in me.

I have used what Spanish I know in both Mexico and Spain, and it has made a lot of difference.






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