My wandering through español

I’ve lived in Guatemala for 2 years now, and I’m frustrated I can’t speak español like a 5 year old. Why? Upon reflection, it’s several reasons. First, Leslie and I have applied to the Peace Corps 3 times.  One of those times, we were “under consideration” for the Philippine Islands so I stopped español for about 6 months and started thinking about Tagalog.

Also, for long blocks of time I was back in the States doing FEMA inspections – while forgetting all my español!

But Leslie and I have had a great foundation here. Last summer we spent 3 months in español intensivo. 5 hours a day, one on one with a teacher covering the equivalent of 2 years of university Spanish.  Last fall we applied again, this time putting Guatemala as our first choice.  Then lo and behold, at the end of January, we were “invited” to serve in Guatemala.

After time back in California getting our Peace Corps medicals done plus all the other background information completed (and re-leasing our home) we came back and have started private tutoring with a husband and wife team 3 hours daily in our apartment.

Kenia and Leslie work at our dining room table,

while Rony and I work at the office table.  Español is coming back fast now, but for me, reading is so much easier than listening or speaking.  Why?  Just look at my next post about all the different sounds and pronunciations from just one word!

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Learning español is easy (uh huh…)!

Over the years I’ve heard people say learning Spanish is easy because it’s a Romance language with a lot of similarity to English.  That may be true for some, but trust me, to learn it well requires a lot of work.

For example, verb conjugations. Each verb has over 50 different “words”, each which really sound alike to my gringo ear (when spoken in normal conversation – rapid!).  Here’s what I mean.  Take “hablar” – to speak.  It’s a “regular” verb with regular rules for conjugation (irregular verbs have special spellings and pronunciations).

We start with this basic list of 25 words (Indicative – and we skip the “vosotros” which is used in Spain but not in Guatemala) for the different persons (first person, second person, etc) and time (present, past, etc).

The Subjunctive (not in English) adds another 25 words – close, but all sound a little different!

The imperatives are commands like “Speak!” but for the correct “person”.  Let’s add some more combinations of variations to “hablar”…

So how many words or phrases for “hablar” – a lot! And to speak fluently, I’ll need to quickly “grab” the right word or phrase automatically from memory without thinking about it!

This past week, I needed to memorize 78 “irregular” verbs – verbs that don’t follow the “regular” conjugation rules like for “hablar”.  Meanwhile, I’m learning (and re-strengthening) nouns, adverbs, adjectives, etc, to add to the mix.

The Peace Corps says that in order to “graduate” from Pre-Service Training (and thus be accepted into the Peace Corps) we must meet a minimum language proficiency level of intermediate Spanish.  But if I want to be effective in my work and be able to communicate easily and freely with my future co-workers, the parents and young people in my site, I’ll need to be much better than just “intermediate”!

Learning español is easy (uh huh…)!

Filed under article topic: Transitions
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