Saturday, September 13, 2014

Learning Spanish: A Personal Story

Speaking  Spanish

First in a Series

(graphic via lingos blog: interesting stats on the Spanish language)

My mom used to say she couldn't "carry a tune in a bucket" and I inherited her disability. In my head I know how a song should sound, but what comes out of my mouth bears no resemblance. (Just ask my husband or kids.)

Speaking Spanish is a lot like that. In my head I can converse with some small amount of fluency, but the words I actually speak are rarely pronounced correctly. It.Makes.Me.Crazy.

In theory speaking Spanish should be easier since each vowel has one sound, and one sound only, and it is ALWAYS pronounced that way. In reality, my mouth trips over those sounds, refusing my efforts to manipulate it into the correct form.

[Right here I want to stop and apologize to all the wonderful language teachers out there, because I will not be using the correct terminology since I don't know it. I'll describe things in the best way I know how, which will probably make you grind your teeth. Feel free to correct me in the comments. Just be kind!]

Let's take the word Europe. In English it has two syllables and sounds like "Ur-up". In Spanish it's Europa, and you say each and every vowel.

But let's back up and talk about how each Spanish vowel sounds:
a = soft a, as in father
e = short e, as in pet
i = long e, as in seen
o = long o, as in post
u =soft u, as in due

Okay, now try to say Europa, pronouncing each and every vowel:
e as in pet
u as in due
ro as in post
pa as in father

Yep, that makes four syllables. Does your mouth have a hard time forming those sounds? Mine sure does!

And certain vowel combinations are guaranteed to come out garbled. The "ae" in aeropuerto has me doing oral contortions, and I still can't say it properly 95% of the time.

I'm telling you, it's sooooo much easier to learn a language when you're young. Not only because the brain is more like a sponge when you're young, but also because that's when your mouth is learning how to shape itself to form the words you use. My fifty-five year old mouth is reluctant and recalcitrant, and sometimes I wish I could slap it into submission.

The other part of speaking Spanish that I find frustrating is the brain-to-mouth delay. I tend to talk fast, and sometimes often realize as it's coming out of my mouth that I've tacked on the wrong conjugation or gender (Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine). Aargh!

But you know what? People still understand me! Well, most of the time. I'll occasionally have to repeat and/or correct what I've said, but in general I can make myself understood.

With practice I see progress. Miniscule progress, but progress nonetheless.

This learning a new language is not for the faint of heart. It is the absolute hardest thing I've ever done, and there's no end in sight. I realized early on that this was going to be a life-long endeavor, and that there will always, ALWAYS be more to learn.

I'm going to share in future posts what it's been like learning to understand what others say (way harder than speaking!) as well as learning to read (easiest part for me, although I'm not a fluent reader either). I'd love to hear from you, too, what your experience has been like if you've learned another language.


rita said...

Loved this post. I think I'll share it with my students! You provide what I cannot--a great description of the language acquisition journey for those who did not grow up in that language.

The Bug said...

I know that I would STRUGGLE if I were to try to learn a new language! I think the only way it would happen is if I lived it & no one spoke English to me :)