Friday, April 22, 2011

Off to Spain

Me, ready to leave
I've had the goal of learning Spanish for a long time, but I haven't been able to devote enough time to it as I'd like. That's what everyone says, I'm sure, even as the years tick away and they never really get to the level they want, in spite of all the best intentions, earnest self-promises, etc. Well... fuck all that. I'm starting a blog.

A little background about me. I've had a Spanish girlfriend for the past eight years, and in that time I've learned a lot about Spain obviously. We're both big movie fans, and she's introduced me to the work of a lot of directors I now admire like Alex de la Iglesia, Luis Garcia Berlanga, and Alejandro Amenabar. (I recommend 800 BajasBienvenido Mister Marshall, and Abre Los Ojos for starters if you aren't familiar with these directors.)

I've learned a lot more about the culture than most Americans would know, so I have a very different picture of it than the romanticized version you tend to get in Hollywood. To me the country's current culture seems very much shaped by the legacy of fascism under the Franco regime, which only collapsed in the 1970s. Hearing stories about the civil war, what it was like under Franco, and what is happening now in the country as a result is all terribly interesting to me, and provides an interesting counterpoint to American politics (which tends to not recognize any politics outside its own).

Clara, on the Boston Subway
I've been to Spain twice before, neither time knowing really any of the language beyond "Hola", "Gracias", etc. My girlfriend's mother did manage to speak to me about food, so I know stuff like "la leche" and "el pan", but I never got far beyond that. My girlfriend, Clara, has lots of friends who are English teachers, so most of them wanted to speak English with me anyway.

Last year I finally decided to take a class. I found one around Boston that met once a week, and went for I think several months total. The people were all very nice, but things moved way too fast for the amount of time I was able to devote to it. I decided to take a break mid-way through the second textbook, because everything was just bleeding together in my head and I felt I couldn't really focus effectively.

So... (or entonces, as they say in Spanish)

I am a few hours away from leaving for Spain. It'll be my third time there, and the first since I've actually tried to learn some Spanish.

I am a bit nervous, because I have an irrational fear of being humiliated by not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing... you know, like a lot of language learners. To deal with this, I've decided to come up with what I call "trouble phrases" - phrases I can say when the worst happens and I just freeze. They are:
  • Perdoname, no te entiendo. / Perdona, no te he entendido.
  • No recuerdo la palabra.
  • Puedes repetir por favor?
  • Estoy trantando.
  • Como se pronucia esto/eso?
  • No conozco la respuesta?
  • Que significa... (something)?
  • Tengo una pregunta.
  • Puedes hablar mas lento?
These are phrases I remember from my class. I don't remember half the stuff I feel I should, but I decided to just zero in on the things I felt might be useful for this trip. Since I've already been there twice, I have a good idea of what I'll be doing, and so far I have a few goals:
  1. be able to tell Clara's parents when I meet them that I actually did learn some Spanish this time
  2. be able to talk with Clara's mom about food
  3. be able to buy bus/train tickets going to and from Madrid
  4. be able to order food on my own
  5. be able to answer some simple questions Clara's friends might ask me
My favorite director, Stanley Kubrick, once said that to be a capable person you really only need to know how to do one thing: solve problems. If you think of your "problem" is "I don't know Spanish" you'll never really move forward, because that is not a realistic, solvable problem. This isn't about you living up to some platonic notion of yourself as a Spanish speaker. It's about solving the problem at hand, which whatever tools you have.

A friend of mine (in the Spanish class I took, who already spoke three languages) told me once "Don't try to 'speak Spanish'. Just try to communicate."

See you in Spain!

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