June 8, 2014

Confessions Of a Pattern Matcher: Spanish

It looks like, yet again, my life is being arranged such that I may be able to speak some Spanish in a native speaker environment before the end of the year.

Every time I go to a Spanish-speaking country, I tell myself, "One Day.  One Day I will *actually* speak this language."

But, other than one semester of conversational Spanish that E and I took back in 2005 and making my way from beginning pimsleur Spanish through intermediate/advanced, I've never formally studied the language.

I formally studied French and Italian, so I get many of the Spanish complexities for free, but really,  I'm a big cheater, and it shows when I speak with fluent adults.

Essentially, I can pattern-match my way through any and all necessary Spanish conversations, and I do so.  Ideally, I would buckle down and lock in a proper understanding of the language so I'm not mimicking every Hispanophone I encounter in my desire to be understood.  But, I've never been disciplined enough to do the heavy grammar lifting.  Pimsleur is *amazing* for advancing your spoken language and comprehension in day-to-day interactions and I highly recommend it if your goal is to be able to communicate.  But my Spanish has been at the point where I can communicate and understand what's going on just fine for far too long, so Pimsleur isn't going to help me.


My Spanish accent and patterns of speech are a BT-unique disaster.

I started with a subtle French and Italian lilt even when speaking Spanish words (and I don't hesitate to try bastardized versions of the French or Italian word if I find I don't know the Spanish one).

While I spent some time in Mexico (Mazatlan) in 2000 and probably picked up a few bad habits there, I didn't get serious about my own personal version of Spanish until I studied conversational Spanish at our local community college in 2005 with E.

After this class, we headed to Puerto Rico for vacation, where they speak a form of Spanish that is all their own due to the melting pot of history and trade.  At times, it was closer to French as sometimes they swallow many of their consonants.  At other times, it was like learning a new language (or, as my brain likes to think of it, *extending* my Spanish), so I learned the local dialect words that aren't used in other Spanish speaking environments (but I don't let that stop me from adding them to my internal "Spanish" dictionary and deploying them when I think they may be useful).

I boldly and loudly took my odd Franco-Italo-Boricua version of Spanish to Mexico twice in 2006, once in 2007, and again in 2008 and added some Mexican influences.  Yet, still, I was regularly asked, "Where are you from? Are you Argentinian?"

Not to run the risk of undoing the damage, in 2010, we spent two weeks in Argentina and Uruguay and I picked up the habit of using the "Vos" (not properly, I assure you) and strengthened my so-called Argentinian accent (to my brain, Argentinian Spanish has much more of the Italian-style sing-song than other Spanishes, and it's easier for me to follow and speak).

In 2011, we did a long trip through Spain where I regularly encountered confused stares in response to my use of the "Vos".  I didn't get completely rid of the vos, but I did leave Madrid with a MadrilleƱo lisp (in fairness, I did manage to drop the "ll/y" --> "zh/j" patterns from Argentina almost immediately).

On the same trip, we finished up in Barcelona where I learned I could actually understand and passably speak Catalan.  The only problem?  I thought it was Spanish.  My lack of formal training in the language means that I survive on the basis of minute-to-minute pattern matching and word roots.  When you have studied Latin, speak French and Italian and can sometimes understand Portuguese but don't have any real serious formal training in Spanish, your Spanish turns into Catalan quick-fast, I promise.

Then, in 2013, we returned to Barcelona, and by the end of the trip I was regularly being *complimented* on how refreshing it was that a foreigner spoke Catalan (all the while, my brain thought I was speaking "Spanish").

In other news, I'm on the fence about whether to join OpenLanguage for my new commitment to formal Spanish studies -- I took their placement exam and they claim I'm B1 on the CEF.  I'm sure their lessons would be very helpful, but given my historic preference for linguistic cheating, I'm wondering if I'd be better off focusing elsewhere, at least until I can test into a C-level CEF proficiency.

All of this is the lead-up to say that I'm committed to actually completing the full Spanish textbook and workbook I have (18 chapters), as well as daily lessons every day on DuoLingo this year before we go somewhere where Spanish is spoken natively.  I think this level of commitment is likely to push me over the edge and *finally* I *WILL* actually speak Spanish.

Here's to hoping...      

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