Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rediscovering Spanish


I have just reached the crazy conclusion that I have so much more energy when I am insanely busy.  I won’t even begin to list all the things I am attempting to do right now, but I will say I just added a new one.
Almost 40 years ago I took a job that allowed me to study Spanish and then French at the Foreign Service Institute (part of the State Department).  I went every workday morning for two years for each language.  The classes were small, never exceeding 5 students.  All the instructors were native speakers.  We rotated instructors every few weeks so as to experience a variety of accents.  The emphasis was always on spoken (not written) communication.  I had always loved learning languages, but never before had I realized how much the quality and style of instruction mattered.  
All those hours of language training prepared me to speak to my third-world counterparts as I attempted to provide technical assistance on the data processing of surveys and censuses.  I got to go to exciting places like Bogota, Tegucigalpa, San Salvador, Lima, Buenos Aires, and Chile.
At one point I really knew how to use the subjunctive and the various verb tenses.  I knew the difference between “por” and “para”, “ser” and “estar”.  I had a tremendous vocabulary in some things, like food items since I did a lot of work on agriculture surveys.  But that was all in the 70’s and 80’s.
One of my first thoughts when we decided to go to Chile on vacation was that I would like to recapture my Spanish ability.  So on a whim I called up FSI and spoke to the head of the Spanish Department.  (She probably wasn’t even born when I was taking language training.)  She seemed flattered that I had been so impressed with my training and sympathetic of my desire for a quick refresher course.
She put out the word to the various instructors and within a few hours I had a dozen or so offers of highly qualified people to teach me and my husband (who knows no Spanish whatsoever).
From all those offers, I chose a woman who is from Colombia and who has been at FSI for almost 20 years.  I remembered the Colombian accent as being the clearest and easiest to understand.  She seemed quite enthusiastic and suggested a very reasonable fee.
We had our first meeting with Lia on Tuesday and our next class is tomorrow.  I had homework to review all the various forms of the present tense and to read something newsworthy.  So I found a Latin American news service online and chose an article entitled “Chile: Ya es tiempo de cambiar”.  It would seem we are not the only country whose citizens are fed up with what is going on.
We will continue to meet with Lia twice a week until our trip in late February.  By then I may not be dreaming in Spanish, but I will be much better prepared to speak to Chileans in Spanish.  And my husband will be able to communicate as long as they don’t stray too far from those initial dialogues!

4 Comments:

Blogger e said...

How wonderful! I wish I had a resource like that in my community. I read Spanish and watch foreign films but my speaking has deteriorated. I hope you enjoy your tutor. I have a great book that reviews all the tenses, if you're interested. Best of luck.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

E -- If only you lived closer, we could get together and speak Spanish! Please do pass on the name of your verb review book. The one I have isn't great.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Steve Reed said...

What a great idea! I took Spanish in college but I never really spoke it, except when I visited Spain in 1994 -- and then it was just the roughest form of cafe Spanish. (I got by, though!)

3:21 AM  
Blogger e said...

Hey Barbara,

I'll send the info tomorrow!

10:46 PM  

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