2006.05.04: May 4, 2006: Headlines: Language Training: NY Times: Lili Wright writes: Learning Spanish: a Tense Undertaking

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Library: Peace Corps: Language and Linguistics: Peace Corp: Langauge and Linguistics: Newest Stories : 2006.05.04: May 4, 2006: Headlines: Language Training: NY Times: Lili Wright writes: Learning Spanish: a Tense Undertaking

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-18-90.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.18.90) on Sunday, June 11, 2006 - 1:59 am: Edit Post

Lili Wright writes: Learning Spanish: a Tense Undertaking

Lili Wright writes:  Learning Spanish: a Tense Undertaking

"Although it has been a lifelong goal of mine to master a second language, my mission has led to little more than a string of highly enjoyable failures. A French major in college, I spent my junior year in Paris. Somehow, despite the painful hours spent shoulder-to-shoulder with the warty matron who taught phonetics, after rainy promenades with our flighty art history instructor pointing her umbrella at yet another flying buttress, after plowing through Existentialist plays about bald sopranos and people buried neck-deep in sand, I managed to leave the country with only a precarious grasp of French grammar and slang."

Lili Wright writes: Learning Spanish: a Tense Undertaking

Learning Spanish: a Tense Undertaking

By LILI WRIGHT
Published: May 4, 2003

AS I pushed my 3-year-old daughter, Madeline, in her stroller down the cobblestone streets of Ronda, in southern Spain, I practiced my question in my head. I wanted to ask Carmen, her day-care teacher, if Madeline was having problems with toilet training at school.

I found my verb and shifted it into the past tense before pushing through the front door. When the words came out fairly fluently, I puffed up with pride.

Carmen cocked her head, a polite gesture the Spanish use to convey that what I have said makes absolutely no sense.

''Yo?'' she asked. ''Me?''

I had just asked her if she wet her pants yesterday.

Although it has been a lifelong goal of mine to master a second language, my mission has led to little more than a string of highly enjoyable failures. A French major in college, I spent my junior year in Paris. Somehow, despite the painful hours spent shoulder-to-shoulder with the warty matron who taught phonetics, after rainy promenades with our flighty art history instructor pointing her umbrella at yet another flying buttress, after plowing through Existentialist plays about bald sopranos and people buried neck-deep in sand, I managed to leave the country with only a precarious grasp of French grammar and slang.

Ten years later I set my sights on Spanish. A night class led to a series of trips to Mexico. Language became an excuse to travel. I took courses in Cuernavaca, Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende and Mérida. This spring, eight years later, I am at it again.

I know of few tasks more frustrating, especially as an adult. When we reach a certain age, we're used to being good at things (the rest we ignore). As a writer, someone who makes her living with words, I can't help seeing my inability to discuss intelligently the plot of the film, the meat in the soup, the sound on the street, as beyond humbling. Everyone says children learn languages more quickly than adults. But do they really? Or is it that we as adults expect so much more of ourselves? We know our crude sentences lack the grace and nuance we intend. Our jokes don't translate. It is hard to be a student again.

When my husband, Peter, our daughter and I arrived in January in Ronda, a whitewashed city perched on a gorge in Andalusia, I immediately enrolled in a language school at the Palacio de Mondragón. More than 100 college students take classes in this 14th-century Moorish palace, most of them Americans. Oh, how quick my academic descent! With one placement test I was demoted from assistant professor to just another amateur in ''Básico Dos.''

On the first day we began grammar class with idiomatic expressions, a friendly ice breaker. A good person is a chunk of bread. If someone is boring, he is a corpse or furniture or just so-so. And if you're having an off-day, you can say ''I am not very Catholic today.'' Someone who is sexy is like a train or like cheese; if he is really irresistible, he moistens your bread. Our teacher, Ana, acted out this expression, a favorite of hers, by rubbing an imaginary crust down the forearm of an invisible Antonio Banderas then popping it into her mouth.

Later that week we struggled with the subtle differences between ser and estar, the two forms of the verb ''to be.'' Soon, even though we managed to get only half the answers right (which you could do if you knew nothing at all), Ana announced with grim resolve that we were moving to the subjunctive. Everyone nodded solemnly. Oh, yes, we've been there before.

Subjunctive is a linguistic back breaker, the wall I slam against each time I pick up Spanish. A few years ago a Mondragón student created a cartoon expressing the depths of his subjunctive despair. In the first few cells, a happy-go-lucky student skips off to class. ''I love my classes. I speak better Spanish each day. I go to the bars at night. I like my host family.'' In the next drawing, the professor announces they are to study the subjunctive. The student faints and crashes to the floor.

The subjunctive is a second set of tenses, a parallel zone used to indicate that whatever is happening is hypothetical or a matter of opinion and might happen in the future, or might not, because maybe it's only what you want or demand or desire and not actually what's real. It is the tense for bad love affairs, for pundits and dreamers.

Despite my academic credentials, I am a mediocre student at best. I steer the class into as many digressions as possible. My notes are a mishmash. Between rules of grammar, I record each tidbit of cultural flotsam. When McDonald's first opened on a central plaza in Ronda, Ana tells us, vandals stoned its bright red sign until police were forced to guard the Big Macs and McPollos all night. Divorce is still relatively rare and can be expensive; spilling wine is considered lucky, as is stepping in dog poop.

''If it happens,'' Ana says, ''You should rush out and buy a lottery ticket.''

As we slog through the rules and exceptions and conjugations, breathing whiffs of gas from the lone leaky heater, I cheer myself up by keeping a list of the most ridiculous things other students say, if only to make my own gaffes seem less egregious:

I really enjoy smoking myself in the afternoons.

New York City, including the outer donkeys, has 15 million inhabitants.

Behave yourself as if you were coats in winter.

The U.S. economy is very bad. Even the grapes are unemployed.

Out and about on the streets of Ronda, every conversation is a challenge. Andalusians speak at a furious pace. They chop off the beginnings and endings of words. They lisp. Expressions that worked so beautifully in Mexico don't fly here. In Mexico, I couldn't go half an hour without saying ''Mande?'' a quick, polite way of asking ''What did you say?'' Here, when I say it, Spaniards squint and cock their heads quizzically.

SOME days I get downright petulant before the enormous size of the task ahead. All the vocabulary blurs together (pila, pina, piña, pino, pito, pillo, piso, pico, pío) and I swear that I must have learned every word in the Spanish language by now. But then I look up a new word, tierno, which means tender, and you can't ignore the word tender (what would Luis Miguel and the other crooners do?) or all the others I've tried to cram into my brain today: Landlord. Pacifier. Misfortune. Randy.

Trying to cheer me up, a fellow student points out that, of course, Spanish is impossible. Every verb can be conjugated 96 different ways. Every noun has a gender. There are four different kinds of ''you,'' depending on how intimately you know this particular ''you'' and how many ''you's'' there are. Subjunctive aside, I can count 24 different ways to say ''you were.''

And yet, I enjoy the struggle. It is immensely satisfying to get the words down right. Instead of being just another gawking tourist asking for the menu in English, you can learn how people in other countries think and feel by what they say and how they say it. On a good day you can hear something unexpectedly beautiful come out of your mouth, without being quite sure how you managed it.

Still, at this rate, it doesn't seem likely I'll ever be fluent; so I have set my sights on the next generation. After four months in Spain, Madeline has at least realized what's going on: Spanish people have a different word for everything, and we're all playing a big game trying to learn their words for our things. One of her favorite jokes is to mutter a string of nonsense words, smile proudly and say: ''I am speaking Spanish.''

I don't know that I am doing much better.





When this story was posted in June 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:


Contact PCOLBulletin BoardRegisterSearch PCOLWhat's New?

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Chris Dodd considers run for the White House Date: June 3 2006 No: 903 Chris Dodd considers run for the White House
Senator Chris Dodd plans to spend the next six to eight months raising money and reaching out to Democrats around the country to gauge his viability as a candidate. Just how far Dodd can go depends largely on his ability to reach Democrats looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton. PCOL Comment: Dodd served as a Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and has been one of the strongest supporters of the Peace Corps in Congress.

The RPCV who wrote about Ben Hogan Date: June 6 2006 No: 912 The RPCV who wrote about Ben Hogan
Probably no RPCV has done more to further the Third Goal of the Peace Corps than John Coyne with the Peace Corps Writers web site and newsletter that he and Marian Haley Beil have produced since 1989. Now John returns to writing about his first love - golf in "The Caddie who knew Ben Hogan." Read an excerpt from his novel, an interview with the author and a schedule of his book readings in Maryland and DC this week.

Top Stories and Breaking News PCOL Magazine Peace Corps Library RPCV Directory Sign Up

The Peace Corps Library Date: February 24 2006 No: 798 The Peace Corps Library
The Peace Corps Library is now available online with over 40,000 index entries in 500 categories. Looking for a Returned Volunteer? Check our RPCV Directory. New: Sign up to receive PCOL Magazine, our free Monthly Magazine by email. Like to keep up with Peace Corps news as it happens? Sign up to recieve a daily summary of Peace Corps stories from around the world.

Vasquez testifies before Senate Committee Date: June 3 2006 No: 905 Vasquez testifies before Senate Committee
Director Vasquez testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination as the new Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture replacing Tony Hall. He has been the third longest serving Peace Corps Director after Loret Ruppe Miller and Sargent Shriver. PCOL Comment: Read our thanks to Director Vasquez for his service to the Peace Corps.

PC evacuates East Timor, hopes to return Date: May 9 2006 No: 890 PC evacuates East Timor, hopes to return
Volunteers serving in East Timor have safely left the country as a result of the recent civil unrest and government instability. Latest: The Peace Corps has informed us that they are monitoring the security situation on a daily basis and that it is the intention of the Peace Corps to return to East Timor if the security situation improves.

First Amendment Watch Date: May 4 2006 No: 883 First Amendment Watch
Maine Web Report hit with Federal Lawsuit
Website wins trademark suit against Jerry Falwell

Interview with a Hit Man Date: April 25 2006 No: 880 Interview with a Hit Man
RPCV John Perkins says that for many years he was an "economic hit man" in the world of international finance whose primary job was to convince less developed countries to accept multibillion dollar loans for infrastructure projects that left the recipient countries wallowing in debt and highly vulnerable to outside political and commercial interests. In this exclusive interview for "Peace Corps Online," Colombia RPCV Joanne Roll, author of Remember with Honor, talks to Perkins about his Peace Corps service, his relation with the NSA, "colonization" in Ecuador, the consequences of his work, why he decided to speak out, and what his hopes are for change.

PC Program in Chad temporarily suspended Date: April 14 2006 No: 872 PC Program in Chad temporarily suspended
Director Vasquez announced the temporary suspension of the Peace Corps program in Chad on April 14 and that all 29 Peace Corps volunteers have left the country. With a program dating back forty years (See Page 4 of the April 1966 "Peace Corps Volunteer"), RPCVs hope that volunteers can return to Chad as soon as the situation has stabilized. Congratulations to the Peace Corps for handling the suspension quickly and professionally.

Peace Corps stonewalls on FOIA request Date: April 12 2006 No: 869 Peace Corps stonewalls on FOIA request
The Ashland Daily Tidings reports that Peace Corps has blocked their request for information on the Volkart case. "After the Tidings requested information pertaining to why Volkart was denied the position on March 2 the newspaper received a letter from the Peace Corps FOIA officer stating the requested information was protected under an exemption of the act." The Dayton Daily News had similar problems with FOIA requests for their award winning series on Volunteer Safety and Security.

PCOL readership increases 100% Date: April 3 2006 No: 853 PCOL readership increases 100%
Monthly readership on "Peace Corps Online" has increased in the past twelve months to 350,000 visitors - over eleven thousand every day - a 100% increase since this time last year. Thanks again, RPCVs and Friends of the Peace Corps, for making PCOL your source of information for the Peace Corps community. And thanks for supporting the Peace Corps Library and History of the Peace Corps. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

History of the Peace Corps Date: March 18 2006 No: 834 History of the Peace Corps
PCOL is proud to announce that Phase One of the "History of the Peace Corps" is now available online. This installment includes over 5,000 pages of primary source documents from the archives of the Peace Corps including every issue of "Peace Corps News," "Peace Corps Times," "Peace Corps Volunteer," "Action Update," and every annual report of the Peace Corps to Congress since 1961. "Ask Not" is an ongoing project. Read how you can help.

PC announces new program in Cambodia Date: March 29 2006 No: 849 PC announces new program in Cambodia
Director Vasquez and Cambodia's Deputy Chief of Mission Meng Eang Nay announced a historic new partnership between the Peace Corps and the Kingdom of Cambodia that will bring volunteers to this Southeast Asian country for the first time. Under King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia has welcomed new partnerships with the U.S. government and other U.S. organizations.

Peace Corps suspends program in Bangladesh Date: March 16 2006 No: 827 Peace Corps suspends program in Bangladesh
Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez announced the suspension of the Peace Corps program in Bangladesh on March 15. The safety and security of volunteers is the number one priority of the Peace Corps. Therefore, all Peace Corps volunteers serving in Bangladesh have safely left the country. More than 280 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Bangladesh since the program opened in November 1998. Latest: What other newspapers say.

Invitee re-assigned after inflammatory remarks Date: March 21 2006 No: 839 Invitee re-assigned after inflammatory remarks
The Peace Corps has pulled the invitation to Derek Volkart to join the Morocco Training Program and offered him a position in the Pacific instead after officials read an article in which he stated that his decision to join the Peace Corps was in "response to our current fascist government." RPCV Lew Nash says that "If Derek Volkart spoke his mind as freely in Morocco about the Moroccan monarchy it could cause major problems for himself and other Peace Corps volunteers." Latest: Volkart reverses stance, takes new assignment in Paraguay.

RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps Date: February 3 2006 No: 780 RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps
Timothy Ronald Obert has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor in Costa Rica while serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer. "The Peace Corps has a zero tolerance policy for misconduct that violates the law or standards of conduct established by the Peace Corps," said Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez. Could inadequate screening have been partly to blame? Mr. Obert's resume, which he had submitted to the Peace Corps in support of his application to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, showed that he had repeatedly sought and obtained positions working with underprivileged children. Read what RPCVs have to say about this case.

Military Option sparks concerns Date: January 3 2006 No: 773 Military Option sparks concerns
The U.S. military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is allowing recruits to meet part of their reserve military obligations after active duty by serving in the Peace Corps. Read why there is opposition to the program among RPCVs. Director Vasquez says the agency has a long history of accepting qualified applicants who are in inactive military status. John Coyne says "Not only no, but hell no!" and RPCV Chris Matthews leads the debate on "Hardball." Avi Spiegel says Peace Corps is not the place for soldiers while Coleman McCarthy says to Welcome Soldiers to the Peace Corps. Read our poll results. Latest: Congress passed a bill on December 22 including language to remove Peace Corps from the National Call to Service (NCS) military recruitment program

Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger Date: October 22 2005 No: 738 Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger
When the National Call to Service legislation was amended to include Peace Corps in December of 2002, this country had not yet invaded Iraq and was not in prolonged military engagement in the Middle East, as it is now. Read the story of how one volunteer spent three years in captivity from 1976 to 1980 as the hostage of a insurrection group in Colombia in Joanne Marie Roll's op-ed on why this legislation may put soldier/PCVs in the same kind of danger. Latest: Read the ongoing dialog on the subject.


Read the stories and leave your comments.






Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: NY Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Language Training

PCOL33111
10


Add a Message


This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.
Username:  
Password:
E-mail: