Thursday, April 8, 2010

Flower or Skunk?

Back when I got all excited and ambitious and convinced I could learn Spanish, I pictured my future self stepping off the plane in Ecuador and chatting with the local people as we waited to get through customs. We’d carry on simple, but enjoyable conversations (in Spanish, of course). I’d tell them how happy I was to be able to actually use this beautiful language I had just recently learned and humbly apologize for my accent. They would get a surprised look on their faces and say, “no, no, no, senora. Your Spanish is truly lovely. We detect no accent at all. If the dazzling light bouncing off your skin wasn’t nearly blinding us we would never have suspected you weren’t one of us.” In my mind I saw Abby and I chatting away in Spanish as we waited for my bags to appear. Everyone around us would comment on how fluent I was. “Oh…..your mother…….she speaks our language perfectly. You must be so proud.”

Okay, deep in my heart I probably know it’s not going to go quite like that, but for the past nine weeks and three days I have truly believed that when my countdown clock reached zero, I’d be able to speak enough Spanish that people would be able to get the gist of what I was saying. And I thought I would be able to understand most of what they were saying to me. Really. I did.

I’ve been following the rules I set for myself even when I didn’t really feel like it. I even bought a special notebook to write words and phrases in but never read. (In case any of you feel the overpowering urge to suffer along with me you can access these very same lessons on your very own home computer here and they're free!) Not only am I spending five nights per week with Roland and Maria (except for that one week I messed up and only managed four, for which I am still feeling major guilt) I’ve also started spending time with Kara and Mark.  Where else can I can learn Spanish in 15-minute doses and get my Scottish accent fix all at the same time? You laddies and lassies can also listen online or download the podcasts to your iPod. Or in my case, the stupid little mp3 player that I inherited from Dean. Sure. I’m the one who initially purchased the worthless piece of junk for him, but now he has a nice new iPod and I have this.
It has a ridiculously little display window with ridiculously poor light and scrolls ridiculously tiny, tiny words.  If I'm lucky I get one hour of play time before the battery dies. To top it off, no matter what I do, the lessons play in random order which means I have to listen while I'm wearing my reading glasses so I can scroll through to find the correct lesson. And as if that wasn’t enough for any poor struggling Spanish-learner to put up with, apparently I am earbud challenged.

You might think popping little buds into your ears is a simple procedure but you would be wrong. First I push my hair out of the way, then I swivel the little ear hook around until I think it’s in the right position, carefully hold the earbud next to my ear and then try to slide the little ear hook over my ear like a pair of glasses. This is difficult because of aforementioned reading glasses getting in the way. It usually doesn’t work the first time. So I take the whole thing off, and try sliding the hook over my ear first and then pushing in the earbud. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. When I finally get one ear all set up, I move to the next. As I am placing the ear bud in the other ear, I notice that I have hair caught in the first ear bud. It tickles. So I carefully begin to pull the hair out, the bud falls out, the ear hook moves and starts coming off my ear and I have do the whole process again. Inevitably, as soon as I get the little buds pushed in, the ear hooks in place on top of my ears, and the correct lesson playing on the worthless little mp3 player, somebody wants to talk to me and I have to pull one out so I can hear them. Then I have to start all over. Again.

I didn’t buy the little beasties. Dean found them on the ground somewhere and left them lying on the kitchen table. He knows I’m cheap and I would choose torturing myself with difficult earbuds before I’d go out and buy another pair when there's a free set staring me in the face.  I think he tempted me with them to get back at me for making him put up with the stupid little mp3 player.  I know. I probably should have disinfected them. Or at least scraped off the biggest chunks of wax. (Go ahead. I’ll wait while you make gagging noises .............. Feel better?) Estoy bromeando!.........maybe....... Anyway, even though I don’t really like the little hook that is supposed to go over and around your ear, it does come in handy when I’m banging my head on a hard object after I’ve gotten the answers in the Spanish quizzes wrong.

So, other than my inability to use earbuds, how’s that Spanish learning been goin’ for me, you say? Am I still excited? Am I fluent? How close am I to my vision of babbling away in Spanish in Ecuador? Well…….......…..I’ve plugged along, lesson after lesson.  Each lesson has gotten a bit harder and more involved but I still felt pretty good about my progress. Til last week. After I finished Lesson Six (of 13) last week, I said to myself, "well, heck, Cathy.  Maybe before you go on, you should go back and retake the quizes from all the lessons you've completed. It’ll be a good review and just think how good you're going to feel when you get all the answers right and can boast that you are almost sorta, kinda fluent."

By the middle of this week my vision of walking off the plane in Ecuador and babbling away in Spanish had changed somewhat. In my current vision, the people around me are still surprised when they hear me speak and they are still commenting on my fluency, but the comments are more like this: “your mother…….she said she wants to eat the taxi and the swimming pool lives in her mouth.”

“Como se dice 'I stink it up big' en espanol”? Get it? Yeah. I stink. Big time.

Tonight I began Lesson One.  Again.◦


abby rose said...

I had images of being able to talk in Spanish in February (yes, THIS February), but that didn't happen. It's now April, still no fluency, and I have completed 11 1/2 of 12 lessons (and I almost always get the answers to the quizes right--why can't someone ask me if I want to go to the bank, I know that one). I have a feeling the only one speaking any kind of fluent Spanish when you come to see me will be Jorge...and I LIVE HERE!! Good luck, I know I need some, and soon ;-)

Art Elser said...

Cathy and Abby,

You've both made my day because I'm feeling about as fluent in Spanish as I am in Russian, and all I know of Russian is "Da" and "Nyet." Kathy has a Spanish-speaking woman, Maria, who comes in twice a month to clean. I think I'll force myself to converse with her to help the fluency.

Cathy, perhaps you can learn a few jokes in Spanish to disarm those folks at the airport. Get them laughing and they won't notice the accent. :-)

Run your blogs through an online English to Spanish translator and then a program that speaks the blogs, tape it on your MP3 player, and play it for the crowd at the airport. Might work. Your blogs keep me laughing.