Learning Languages

By kate on May 26th, 1999

I’m learning Spanish! The reason is because I am going to Mexico for 10 days in mid-June and I was a little leery of going to a foreign country where I barely knew how to say “please”. I took French in high school, you see…

(Imagine Wayne and Garth waving their fingers and saying, “Diddleiddleoo diddleiddleoo…”)

I chose to take French back then because I thought it was more sophisticated (nevermind that it isn’t very useful unless you plan to visit France or Quebec). I turned out to have a natural ability to pick up the language; I easily accumulated vocabulary words and became familiar with verb tenses. I was such a good French student that during my junior year, I learned two years worth of material in a single year.

But that’s where my problem started. Because I was learning at this accelerated pace, I spent most of my time in the back room studying on my own. I didn’t spend very much time hearing or speaking the language. My senior year, I was back in a class, but the teacher didn’t enforce the supposed rule that we had to speak only French in the classroom. Then, at the end of the year, we prepared for the Advanced Placement (AP) test. We crammed as much French into our brains as we could.

The exam was a disaster. (I should explain that I usually take tests very well; this was an exception.) The written part went fine, but the oral section threw me completely. I had to listen, translate, formulate and speak a response in maybe 10 seconds. Once I messed up one question, I missed the next question because I was still answering the last. I got so flustered that I scored a 2 on the exam (out of 5, which gives no college credit). Nobody from my class who took it did any better.

I blame it in large part on my teacher. Had she prepared us for the format of the oral section, I wouldn’t have been flustered. Simply telling us what it would be like would have helped; having us practice taking questions in the exam format would have been even better.

After that experience, and a whole year of being in her class, I was completely turned off to French, and languages in general. I took the required quarter of French my first quarter in college and forgot about it all as fast as I could.

(Flashback fades wavily into the present)

So then, a few months ago, I was invited to go to Mexico, and of course I accepted. My reluctance toward foreign language was overcome by the more tangible fear of being unable to communicate, so I got a “Spanish in 10 Minutes a Day” book and began learning.

I was very surprised to rediscover my aptitude for language. I’m picking up words very quickly, and just learned how to conjugate verbs yesterday. I’m still having trouble with pronunciation – I am used to pronouncing French words. Fortunately, Steve (my boyfriend / travelling companion) has an excellent ear for voices, so he is able to help me with how things should sound.

It’s very exciting to be enjoying language again.

Filed under: learning, travel
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