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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Books and Movies

I have been a big fan of Peruvian novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa for a long time. He has always been my favorite Latin American writer and now that my Spanish is a lot better he may top the list of all-time favorite contemporary writers. He has been fairly prolific and I sort of got too far behind in my reading to keep up with him. I plan on catching up while I am living in Spain. While I'm at it I will probably reread the books I have already read.

I am currently reading his latest novel published in 2006. He was born in 1936 so he is getting up there. I have breezed through the first 90 pages of Travesuras de la NiƱa Mala and I think that, so far, it is one of his best novels. The story parallels the author’s own life from his youth and early adulthood in Lima, Peru and then on to Paris where he worked as a translator. It is great to see that one of my literary heroes has improved with age. His descriptions of life in Lima during his childhood are sharper and more revealing than those of his earlier novels.

I have set a goal of reading at least 40 pages a day in Spanish, not including newspapers and magazines. Reading is the best way for me to learn new vocabulary and reinforce words I have already learned. I get a special sort of pleasure out of looking up a word I don’t know and then coming across the same word in a different context the next day. When that happens I usually have that word locked into my memory.

Just about everything I do inside the confines of the Spanish language I am able to write off as “educational.” I can watch a movie that may be a complete piece of shit and feel good about it because it is helping my aural comprehension. I think that I mentioned before how I was reading translations of a couple of spy novels that I had read in English years and years ago. I picked up a lot of great vocabulary from them.

I don’t learn many new words from watching movies in Spanish; I just reinforce words that I already know as well as strengthen my listening skills. Most of the television is pretty crappy here so I stick mostly to movies for this exercise. I have seen a lot of Spanish movies as well as some American films dubbed into Spanish (with Spanish rather than Latin American accents). I haven’t been able to find any Spanish books on tape. I think this would be a great way to learn. I have found a few podcasts in Spanish but tracking them down takes too much time.

Something that I need to do more of is reading out loud. It is tiresome and boring but it is the best way to work on pronunciation. I sometimes talk to myself out loud in Spanish when I am bike riding which gets some weird looks from people when I am caught doing it.

I often think about how easy it would be to learn English as a second language. First of all, there are tons of movies in English, as well as television shows, all of which are readily available in most corners of the world. It is also easy to find books in English as well as periodicals. If English had not been my native language I’m quite sure I would have learned it by now.

Learning Spanish is like conducting a war on several different fronts. I sort of doubt I’ll ever be standing on a ship with a banner reading “Mission Accomplished” unfurled behind me. There is no finishing this task. Luckily, there are many rewards along the way, like this wonderful novel by a favorite writer. With every day that goes by, with every book that I read and every movie that I watch, I only hope that I am getting less Borat and more rico-suave.

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