Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Tuesday nights, en español
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At work I'm listening to Mexican public radio - something historical. Trying to write a script for the morning show, trying to follow the conversation on the show that's on the air. Multitasking is especially ineffective when you're trying to follow two audio streams at once. The Mexican podcast is suffering the most from my divided attention. I've decided to just let the language wash over me, and not worry about comprehension for now.
Several bloggers have posted recently about learning and speaking Spanish (including Moving to Mérida, Yucatango, Imagine Mérida, An Alaskan in Yucatán ). Lots of great tips and resources. My own efforts to grasp the language have been on and off. It's high on the nice-to-do list, but not yet one of the must-dos, while work and family obligations limit the time we can spend away.
My Spanish skills lie somewhere in the territory between beginner and intermediate. I often have the unfortunate experience of starting a conversation with a local person in Mérida, and getting a long, fast and to me, mostly incomprehensible reply. I recognize a lot of the words but can't put them together fast enough. Many of the verb conjugations and articles and expressions are unfamiliar. I feel foolish and my face starts to freeze into an embarassed grin. Times like that I wonder if I'll ever get much better at this language thing.
Back when we first got our place, I went with our property manager to meet the next door neighbor. She was graciously describing the nearby conveniences, shops and transit and such. I guess I was looking increasingly befuddled. The neighbor turned to Maggie and asked, with what I thought was a hint of incredulity: "She doesn't speak Spanish?" Maggie kindly replied that I knew bastante, enough. I wish it were so.
Sometimes I feel like it is coming to me. Comprehension begins to emerge from the fog of words and phrases. Other times I totally suck at it, and feel like my language skills are heading in reverse; that I am un-learning.
Lately I've been meeting other Spanish-language enthusiasts Tuesday nights at a local café in Victoria. Se Habla Español has been meeting for years. It started as a handful of people playing Scrabble in Spanish in someone's apartment, and grew.
Now, on a typical night 20 or more people at all levels of proficiency turn out for two hours of conversation en español. You just show up, buy a coffee or whatever, and contribute a dollar to cover the group's modest costs (principally running the website and organizing occasional parties). It was a pleasant surprise to discover friends, and friends of friends, and parents of our kids' friends, among the regular group. Everyone has a different reason for coming. One friend is an artist who sometimes works in Spain in the winters. Another, a doctor who volunteers with a project to provide health care to poor communities in Honduras. One has a novia in Colombia. Several have spent months or years traveling or living in Latin America. Some participants are native Spanish speakers from Mexico or elsewhere.
At first when I went it seemed like after an hour of concentration my brain started to hurt. Now two hours doesn't feel too overwhelming. I discovered it helps to bring index cards with a couple of verb tense conjugations I'm trying to learn, for quick reference. Increasingly, I'm experiencing that wonderful, elusive feeling that I'm following whole conversations, not fading in and out of range like a bad radio signal. Could this be real progress? We'll see, next month.