“Las camisas no son rojas.” Translation: The shirts are not red.
I am up to Level 4 in a Duolingo online Spanish language program. This is a very precisely programmed course of instruction which only allows me to proceed sequentially. I am still using present tense verbs and I am learning a lot of new vocabulary. Aside from the fact that in my past two attempts at using the program, the screen has suddenly disappeared and I can’t figure out why, I have been having fun learning Spanish.
But here’s the problem…
Knowing how to say “las cebollas no son animales” (onions are not animals) is not going to help me get around Spain which I will be visiting this Sunday for 11 days. I also think it will not make for very exciting casual bar talk over tapas and sangria.
I need to pick up some conversational tidbits such as “Where is restaurant such and such….? “Where do I find the bus stop to go to Parc Guell?” “How much is that bottle of wine?” “I’d like steak and potatoes, please.”
I love languages and learning them. For me, it’s fun…kinda’ like solving a puzzle, piece by piece. Being fairly fluent in French (I lived there for a year a long time ago) has enabled me to pick up other Romance languages with some ease. If I run into a problem with, say, Spanish…I’ve learned to just say the word in French with a Spanish accent and add an “e” or an “o,” or an “a” at the end of the word to make it sound more like Spanish. By doing so I can usually make myself understood to a savvy native speaker.
With the deadline for departure less than a week away, I know I’ll have to resort to Plan B, which is to just dive into the language and hope for the best. Doing so used to be easier when I was younger and less daunted by the need for perfection. Now, when I am in a situation where I feel language-challenged, I sometimes freeze up and can’t remember any word that sounds even close to what I want. I have seen this happen so often with my own students. Other times I just can’t remember the word…a sign of a brain that’s getting older, more saturated, and a lot less quick on recall.
What I need to remember is that most people (except in France, which I love dearly in spite of their language haughtiness) are very forgiving if you make a sincere attempt to speak in their native language. They will help you if they can. And sometimes being language challenged can lead to making new friends, or at least a good tip from a native on where to go to eat or drink.
So, dear friends, next week I’ll be spending a few days each in Madrid, Seville and Barcelona (in that order) where I hope to be improving my Castilian Spanish. In Barcelona, where Catalan is predominant, I know I will be at a distinct disadvantage.
Most of the Spanish I know I picked up from working as an English as a New Language teacher for 25 years with students mostly from Central and South America where Spanish is spoken quite differently. Nonetheless, I learned enough Spanish to converse in a limited way with my former students and their parents, when the need arose.