Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Starting Out in Spanish Part III

Now that I was feeling more confident about my listening skills, I continued to push myself, looking for ways to be involved with the language and the people who spoke it in my area.   Over the next few years, I met a handful of international students at my school and some who were studying at the university in town which had a good sized foreign student population.  Even in casual conversations I could notice how they carried their culture with them and picked up on their attitudes towards many things and got a sense of how they viewed their home country and mine.  These encounters weren't everyday but each one was another layer of experience in listening or speaking.  Then  I started upper division classes.  During those last two years of university I also had a couple of  serious boyfriends from Latin American who were here as students.  English was the default language but we would switch back and forth between both and I learned so much language and culture from them directly and indirectly. One thing that I noticed that served as an indicator of what level I was at was that whenever we would talk about something that I thought was important, I prefered English because I wanted to be sure I understood everything.  For casual conversation I felt comfortable using Spanish. That was the relatively easy part to develop because that type of language is common and I sought it out. This skill was solidified by the time I started the advanced classes in university.  I got to practice, for real purposes, a variety of language tasks with the people I knew or met.  Quite often they were situations I had never encountered but perhaps because I was motivated, and had developed skill in circumlocution (using language you know to compensate for what you don't know how to say), I was able to deal with them.  For example, I was once invited to someone's apartment and that person gave me detailed directions in Spanish over the phone.  These kind of experiences gave me a sturdy foundation as I began the more challenging classes in college. 
Now, I was listening to lectures about Spanish history and literature.  It was relatively easy but was more input of a different kind.  So were the Spanish language news reports I 'd listen to on the radio from the city nearby and the salsa and merengue the station played.  Any new song was like a lesson.  After hearing it a couple of times, I learned it the way I would a song in English.  However, this was only if I recognized the words.  There were some I didn't know.   I was also lucky to be taught famous songs and the difficult words in them by my friends.  In this way, I continued to increase my vocabulary through aural input, something I got used to since I originally started in Miami.   So far I was pretty satisfied with what I had learned and thrilled to be advancing in the language through a college major but soon I began to realize that this new stage wasn't quite what I expected.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to me that you felt most comfortable with casual conversation at this point in your story. My experience has been a bit different.

    I have not had much interaction with native Spanish speakers. Instead, I have mostly practiced by reading, watching movies/TV, and listening to music.

    This lack of direct communication has resulted in my acquisition of an unbalanced skill set. In particular, I speak much better than I can understand others. I also find it very difficult to follow literature in Spanish, as much of the vocabulary is unfamiliar to me. By contrast, I do well with technical works and lectures.