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Monday, November 03, 2008

My (non)Learning Curve

My (non)Learning Curve

My life is becoming so routine here that I think that I have started to take a lot of things about life in Spain for granted. When I first arrived two years ago everything was very new and very different. It was easy to identify and the contrasts and to point them out. I think that most of my first impressions and observations about life in Spain were accurate and fairly insightful. I wish that I had been able to read the stuff I have written about Spain before I arrived—it would have made things a lot easier. Just the simple things like ordering a coffee or a beer in a cafĂ© took quite a while for me to perfect. It's not like I was so terrifically clumsy at first but now so many things that once were a bit of a mystery I now perform fairly effortlessly. If I stay another two years I wonder how different I will be then. Constantly improving in Spanish helps to answer most of the questions about life here.

It really is a daily struggle to improve my Spanish. I still have so far to go but I have also come a very long way. I would have to say that my reading ability is very high. I'm sure that I read more in Spanish than most Spanish speakers. Being a heavy reader has its advantages as well as being one of the great joys in life. My vocabulary is almost too big for my speaking ability—if that is possible. My Spanish friends always point out to me that some words that I use are a bit flowery and literary for every day speech. I still don't understand everything I hear on television. I would put my comprehension of movies in Spanish at about 70% at this point, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the amount of slang. Note to self: watch more movies in Spanish. Note to Spanish film makers: make more and better movies for me to watch. Message to Spanish TV writers: You Suck!

As far as media goes, I can't understand why everyone in the world with a computer doesn't speak perfect English. There is just so much out there for people learning English to make it easier. Think of all of the great music, movies, and television programs that are available. That alone should be a great motivating factor to master English. If you learn English, you get to watch The Sopranos and The Wire. The Beatles, The Godfather, Ernest Hemingway, Monty Python's Flying Circus, The New York Times, are just a few more reasons to study your English grammar.

As an American, I have always been self-conscious about my poor ability in speaking other languages. Scandinavian, German, and Dutch people all speak English, at least that is what I thought. Many do Speak English or another language but now I realize that many don't—or at least not very well. I have also written in great detail about why I'm not all that impressed with someone from Finland or Norway who has learned English. If they don't, their world is going to be very, very small (both countries have fewer people than Madrid). I also no longer have to feel bad about not speaking another language well because my Spanish is better than most people's second language here in Europe (if they know another language at all). I can also say that I have a high level in the second and third most widely spoken languages on the planet. The fact that Chinese may be the only language that matters is a problem I'll face when we get to that point. I think I may still have a couple years to form a plan for that certain eventuality.

I have also written I some detail about how language is not an ideology as many people seem to think, especially in America. You have even less control about the language you speak than the silly religion you may follow. It's easy enough for a thinking person to ditch ignorant religion they may have inherited, but shedding your language is another matter. Trying to learn another language—especially as an adult—is a huge pain in the ass. I'll keep studying but my learning curve in Spanish is less steep than a wheelchair ramp. It's called a false flat in cycling terms; that's when you think you aren't going up but you are...very gradually. I suppose that as far as learning Spanish, gradual is better than never.

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