I have been studying Spanish for several years now and want to discuss the why – porque – and the how – como.
In recent years before the pandemic I visited Mexico, Peru, Spain, and Cuba, in every trip enjoying myself. The Spanish-speaking world is vast and I’m optimistic that I will be able to visit again when the pandemic is no longer a major concern.
I’m also doing it as mental exercise in my retirement. I’m not great with languages, not having made a lot of progress with Chinese and Japanese years ago, but Spanish is close to French and English, so I have higher expectations. I would like to get to the point where I can read a newspaper and hear spoken Spanish – in a conversation, newscast, or film – clearly. Though I’m not completely fluent in French, I hear French clearly enough to be able to identify and make sense of each word. With Spanish, I am moving from it being a mainly incomprehensible jumble of sounds to a language I also hear clearly.
I started with Duolingo’s grammar exercises and got through most of them. Their shortcoming is that they can be approached like a computer game rather than language training, so you use computer game tricks rather than true language learning to advance. Doulingo’s stories are somewhat better and I like its podcasts most of all.
The podcasts include alternating narration between a Spanish-speaking subject and an English-speaking (Latina) host. The topics are fascinating and occasionally off-beat, for example a recent story about a female geologist whose knowledge of specialized mining software played a key role in finding the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground several years ago, a series about a gang of Buenos Aires (Porteno) bank robbers who became folk heroes, and a story about the career of the Mexican tenor Jose Camarena (who can often be heard on Metropolitan Opera broadcasts singing high C’s and many other notes). Another benefit of the podcasts is that they include speakers from many places, so you begin to recognize the different accents (for example Argentinian, Spanish, and Mexican).
I also watch Spanish movies or television series on Netflix. I’m now most of the way through a 60 episode docudrama about el Libertador Simon Bolivar. It combines Bolivar’s inspirational and epic military and political career to throw off Spanish colonialism (achieved) and unite the former colonies (which, on his deathbed, he likened to ploughing the sea). The docudrama is also a telenovela, with numerous subplots involving beautiful actresses who are passionately embracing men other than their husbands.
… and Grammar Practice
I finally accepted the need to be more rigorous and have begun online grammar classes at Toronto’s Spanish Centre. My informal learning enabled to place at the intermediate level, and, along with half a dozen other students, I have been cementing my knowledge of verb tenses, such as varieties of the past and subjunctive. Carla Soto, who teaches my course is helpful and enthusiastic, and I think she’s great. Given Zoom’s less than perfect tonal fidelity, I would prefer in-person instruction, but at least I’ve gotten started. I’m supplementing Carla’s classes with exercises in Gilda Nissenberg’s well-known Spanish grammar textbook Practice Makes Perfect.
I’m not aiming for perfection, but have undertaken this language journey with a goal of mutual comprehension, both online now and in person in the future.