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Saturday, June 09, 2007


Reading is truly the key to learning another language. Reading provides the most concentrated learning experience. If I read for an hour I am able to ingest more information, more words, more grammar patterns than I could in an hour of movie watching or an hour of conversation. Those are also important aspects of becoming fluent in another language but reading is quickest route to fluency.

I am currently reading three novels at the same time. This isn’t really by choice; it’s more out of necessity. I started reading Mario Vargas Llosa’s latest novel, Travesuras de la Niña Mala, at the library. I can’t get a library card because I am not a resident so I have to read it there. I go in and crank out 40 pages at a time. It has been one of the better reading experiences I have had in quite some time—in any language. The main character, Ricardo Summorio (I think that’s his name), mirrors the life of Llosa himself from his life in Peru until he graduated with a law degree and then soon moved to France where he worked as an interpreter.

The novel, which spans several decades thus far, glimpses into the political situation in Peru and the cultural life of Europe seen through the eyes of a Peruvian ex-patriot. If my Spanish were anywhere near as good as my English I would read this book in a single sitting. It has been very easy for me to understand but I still can’t read very fast in my newly adopted tongue. A couple more trips to the library and I’ll wrap this one up. I would categorize this novel under “page turners,” something all great novels should be. How can you describe a novel as great if it is difficult to read or just plain tedious?

I am also reading another Llosa novel called La Fiesta del Chivo that someone loaned me. This novel is about Santo Domingo during the Trujillo era, a period of history about which I know very little. This novel, for whatever reason, is a bit more challenging linguistically. I have mentioned before that novels which deal with the psychology of the characters are more difficult to read for me than more plot-driven stories. I’m glad that I have this one on loan because it may take me a while to plow through it.
My other book is a novel by Lucía Etxebarria called Un Milagro en Equilibrio. I actually bought this one at full price (8.50€). I chose it because it won the Premio Planeta in 2004, a major Spanish literary award, and because it sold 400,000 copies. I figure that it will lead me on my road to Spanish cultural literacy. I haven’t read enough to comment on what it’s about but I can say that I love the way she uses language. I like reading contemporary Spanish writers because I get good view into the modern language.

It seems that I have made a considerable advance in my Spanish fluency because I have been getting a lot of compliments from the people with whom I come into regular contact. I’m not a good judge of my own Spanish; I think that it sucks but I’m just a dumb American. I do know that it is getting easier and easier for me to read Spanish but I still have a long way to go. I eventually want to be able to read Don Quixote which few Spanish people have read in its entirety. I guess this is a little like a student of English wanting to tackle Shakespeare—also not read much by a lot of native English speakers.

I think that what interests me most about becoming fluent in Spanish is not being able to communicate with people in dozen of Spanish-speaking countries on two continents—although this is kind of cool—but being able to read the literary output from writers who have influences hundreds of millions of people.

The coolest thing by far is just fucking living here. I hope that I have been able to convey a fraction of the joy that I receive every day that I spend in this beautiful and infinitely interesting country. The truth is that I have loved every place that I have ever lived. I grew up in the Midwest of the United States of America and I loved that place. It’s a shame—at least to me—that nothing survives of what I wrote while I lived in Indiana. I wasn’t much of a writer back then (not that I claim to be much of one now) but I thoroughly loved the summers I spent there swimming in the quarries, and learning how to love bike riding. This has all been well chronicled, not by me, but in the wonderful film Breaking Away. If you have never seen this movie I highly recommend it and I would say that it is the sweetest movie ever made.

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