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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Great (modest, minute, tiny?) Leap Forward



I feel that I have not been as active in improving my Spanish as I have in the past. To this end I have decided to greatly increase my reading. To this end I purchased a copy of Ken Follet’s Los Pilares de la Tierra (The Pillars of the Earth), a 1,356 page (with small print I might add) leviathan of a novel about the construction of a mediaeval English cathedral. I found an audio book of it several months ago and began listening to it on my bike rides. I had to give up on it as the robot voice started to drive me nuts about a couple of chapters. I was already hooked a bit on the story and asked around to see if anyone had a copy in Spanish. I finally broke down a couple of weeks ago and bought a copy and started reading in earnest.

I don’t remember this book being very popular in the States but it is enormously popular here in Europe. In Germany it was a monster best seller and here in Spain it seems that most of my Spanish friends have read it. It’s one of those books that when you are reading it in public complete strangers will comment to you about their experience with it. I just find that it is fun to read, although rather difficult in certain passages that deal with the technical aspects of mediaeval architecture. By the time I finish I may not be able to design a cathedral but I could probably get work on a cathedral construction gang—one of my life-long dreams, right after giving the Pope a wedgie.

I am 500 pages into this thing and as far as novels go it isn’t anything to really write about. In one crucial part of the story a family is robbed in the forest and the thief outruns a man while carrying a pig under his arm? Almost nothing has happened that isn’t completely predictable and the characters are right out of the Microsoft Mediaeval Literature software program: a beautiful princess, a nasty little prince, corrupt and ambitious church officials, and a pious monk. It’s something I probably wouldn’t read in English but in Spanish I am quite enjoying it. I like the fact that I see new vocabulary over and over again which helps to reinforce memorization. I have learned a lot of new expressions besides all of the architectural terms, many of which I really didn’t understand I English. As I have said over and over, I just feel that reading is extremely important in language learning. If you like to read you are at a sharp advantage over nonreaders. This is true at least as far as building vocabulary is concerned. I remember having to learn lists of vocabulary in French class way back when. I didn’t really start learning French until I just started reading it.

It is great to be in the middle of a book that I just want to be reading all the time: when I first wake up in the morning, while waiting for a train, on the metro, and then in one or two caf├ęs during the day. I have to go now, time to read.