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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Putting Everything in Context

Fundamentally, no word really means anything in isolation, almost all words derive their meaning from the totality of language (and silence, as an alternative to speech...) in which they occur, and that includes the other possible word choices one could have made instead of the word one did choose. It´s a very dynamic, active model and every language approaches the communication of reality in a different way.

I found this wonderful quote on a forum on the wonderful resource called wordreference.com. I will fall back to the old adage, “I couldn’t have said it better myself,” which is what we say for almost everything we aren’t clever enough to come up with on our own. This entry was in a forum about the Spanish expression “desde luego” which I learned—after living here only three freaking years—means “of course.” In my defense I have to say that I know several other ways to say “of course” and “desde luego” is probably the least literary manner to say this, and up until now most of how I express myself in Spanish is a result of the vocabulary and expressions I come across while reading. While I still believe that reading is the best and quickest way to ingest information, I am advanced enough in my Spanish foray to include other learning devices.

I watch a couple of Spanish series on television, more as educational tools than entertainment but it’s nice when the two go hand-in-hand. As I have said many times before, I can justify any sort of silliness if it is helping me to learn the language. This can even mean watching Ace Ventura dubbed into Spanish, yes, Ace Ventura. I still think that reading is the fastest way to learn new vocabulary and grammar but listening comprehension is also necessary. I don’t think that TV and movies are a very efficient method of learning simply because there often isn’t a lot of dialogue, especially in a lot of movies. I would certainly prefer to listen to recorded books but I won’t to complain again here about the vast shortage of recorded books in Spanish.

TV shows have, in general, much more dialogue than movies and are therefore a better way to improve listening comprehension. My latest learning tool is the American TV series How I Met Your Mother dubbed into Spanish as Como Conocí a Vuestra Madre, a show I probably would never watch in English but I have been very entertained thus far with the Spanish version. I’ve learned a lot of new vocabulary (I have www.wordreference.com open on my laptop when I watch the show), some of it is probably too slangy and hip for me to use but other words I hope will be useful (putilla = slutty could be a good one). I can’t believe that I have lived in Spain for three years and had to learn from Barney on Como Conocí a Vuestra Madre that the innocuous reflexive verb meaning “to brush,” cepillarse, can also mean “to do someone.” It’s not like I even had to look up the alternative meaning as the context made it very, very clear that it was something of a sexual nature.

Even the words and expressions I don’t plan on using, because of their slang or too hip nature, I am grateful to have learned simply because they add to my overall fluency in Spanish. Your vocabulary can’t ever be too big.