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Thursday, June 12, 2008

From the Bookshelf

I have been trying to read Spanish and Latin American literature but I find that reading works translated into Spanish are less of a linguistic challenge for me, even at this stage of my learning curve. It took me almost a week to struggle through 126 pages of the Gabriel García Márquez novel Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada. I followed that with a Spanish translation of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (El Curioso Incidente del Perro a Medianoche). I was able to crank out this 264 page book in three days and I hardly needed to look up a word. Now I am reading Primo Levi's novel, Si ahora no, ¿cuando? (If not now, when? Or the oiginal Italian, Si non ora, quando?).* It is also proving to be easy to read for me.

I'm sure the day will come when I am able to read almost any Spanish work without too much difficulty. I wouldn't say that day is going to get here any time soon. In the meantime I'll keep struggling with the more challenging works and breeze through the translations. The important thing for the student of Spanish is to read...a lot. Reading is the best vocabulary builder and the best place to see a lot of different grammar patterns. Reading also reinforces vocabulary that you may have already learned. I may know the meaning to a lot of words but this doesn't necessarily mean that I have been able to incorporate them into my spoken Spanish. If I have a somewhat tenuous grasp of a word and then I see it again in print, this usually clarifies the meaning for me. Having the word in context is always better than just reading a definition.

Aseo, letrina, váter, inodoro, retrete, servicios are all Spanish words for “toilet,” all useful words when traveling. If you are asking for the restrooms you would only use aseos or servicios. I remember one time in Seattle I was in a bar and a foreign guy walked up to me and asked, “Eh...toilet?” I had to be a smart-ass so my answer was, “Yeah, I guess this place is a toilet but it's close to my apartment and the people here are pretty cool.” Remember, the important thing is that I think that I am funny. Perhaps my sense of humor is just too sophisticated for your tastes. In that joke I acted like I had confused his request for directions to the bathroom with a pejorative statement about the bar we were in. None of this has anything to do with learning Spanish.

The most difficult thing about learning Spanish is knowing that there will never be a finish line, there will be no banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” The good news is that learning Spanish won't take nearly as long as the war in Iraq, that and the food is better here. Some days I feel extremely comfortable in Spanish and other days I think it would be easier for me to communicate through tap dancing and farting—if I can steal a line from Kurt Vonnegut.

*I have this cool new computer with the spico keyboard which gives me instant access to letters like ñ, á, í, and even ü—umlauts are so cool, I use them whenever possible. I'll have to start writing a lot more I Spanish or this computer will seem like a waste of money.

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