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Learning Spanish - Multilingual HP Readalong - dorsetgirl
October 16th, 2013
10:25 am
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Learning Spanish - Multilingual HP Readalong
Inspired by this post at linguaphiles, I ordered Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal from Amazon last night and will be joining in. I don't know yet to what extent, if at all, I'll be posting about it. People are doing the readalong in whatever language they choose; I've chosen Spanish.

I'm the kind of person who enjoys reading the dictionary, and etymology has always fascinated me. When my children were little and would ask me what a word meant, I would start with "Well, it's..." and they would all chant "...from the Latin word..." because that's what I usually said! I think I have a natural facility for languages, but growing up English isn't exactly the best way to explore that potential.

I've never formally learned Spanish, but I have always in some way felt "called" to this language above others. For the record, I'm setting down here my previous experiences with Spanish.

At school, I did compulsory French and optional German and Latin 'O' Levels, getting 1,1,2 respectively (in the days when there were six pass grades, so I think that's like 2 A*s and an A nowadays). In Sixth Form, people doing French or German 'A' Level were able to do Spanish 'O' Level alongside. I was desperate to do it, but the timetable was structured so that it was impossible with my subjects (Maths and Sciences).

My next encounter with the language was a long weekend in Barcelona in 1990. The people there were wonderful in helping with learning the language. In most places, what happens is they hear your English accent and reply in English, so you don't get any decent practice. In Barcelona what happened was they laughed affectionately at our accents, told us how we should be saying it, and made us say it again. Perfect. The best was a lady running a street snack stall. She heard our accents (two English, one Chinese, one South-African) and told us each individually what we were doing wrong. At the beginning of the weekend my speech was limited to "tres cervezas y una agua con gas, por favor" and "la cuenta, por favor" from my little phrase book. By the Monday morning I was constructing full sentences and getting approval for my pronunciation from the lovely people in the hotel.

After that, I forgot all about Spanish until about 2007, when the Spanish tv channel Antena3 did a remake of Life on Mars, called La Chica de Ayer. I watched it and loved it, and was sad when it was cancelled after one season. I remember watching the first episode (available on the website immediately after broadcast and in some cases before!) and just hearing this non-stop wave of rolling syllables. I couldn't tell where one word ended and the next began; I couldn't hear sentences. Just non-stop random sounds. So I was pretty amazed the following week to find that - although I still didn't understand a single word - I could now distinguish individual words quite easily, and hear the starting and ending of sentences. By the third week I was hearing some words well enough to be able to look them up. Unfortunately I never did get further than that, because the fast colloquial speech wasn't clear enough to me to get a good idea of the spelling!

The next stage was that my middle son did Spanish at GCSE. I had great hopes of learning alongside him, but circumstances conspired against that. I've finally realised that where I mainly went wrong was that he would chatter away all the time in Spanish, but I need to see things written down before I can hear them properly (I must ask my mum if I was slow to speak as a small child!) So he got his A* and I had barely learned a word.

The most important influence on my acquisition of Spanish was coming back to tennis and becoming a fan of the Argentinian player Juan Martín del Potro. (I made a keyboard shortcut in Word for getting the 'i' with an accent on!). Naturally enough, googling his name brings up mainly Spanish-language results, and I discovered that having done French and Latin was a huge help with the vocabulary. I used, and still use, a lot of Google Translate, and I quickly found it quite easy to divide sentences into smaller blocks to get each phrase translated more sensibly. Nowadays I generally use GT for vocabulary and to confirm tenses. I still can't write a sentence in Spanish, but within a tennis context I can read a high proportion of them without looking things up, and I generally recognise whether a verb is past, present or future.

I suppose I'm basically going for an immersion method in terms of reading, and I'm now finding that when my son says things in Spanish I can hear 70% of the words at the first try, because that's how my brain works - I know what words exist because I've read them, and so I can now hear them. He then repeats the sentence and I either reply (in English at the moment) or tell him what I think it means. He's finding it very odd that suddenly I can tell him what things mean! For example, the other day he used "otra vez" for "again", but said he wasn't sure whether that was correct. I was able to tell him that yes, I had seen it used for "again" quite often. Obviously my vocabulary is biased towards tennis usage, so partido, golpe, derecha, revés, cruzarse are match, stroke/shot, forehand, backhand, meet(play) rather than party, blow, right, setback, interbreed(!).

And now I'm going to take part in this HP readalong, which I'm looking forward to. I looked for the book on El Corte Inglés and was pleased to find I could understand nearly all of the story summary.

My general plan is to keep on with the reading and hope that enough sinks in to make it easy to move on to the next stage, which will be taking on board a bit more formal grammar so I can be confident in producing decent sentences. I don't really feel motivated at this stage to sit down and learn all the endings etc formally, but I think that will start to gel naturally quite soon. Overall, I think I've made quite a lot of progress in the past couple of months. I have made no effort whatsoever to be able to write Spanish, only to read it, but that's quietly coming along in the background. The other day I was watching the Delpo/Nadal match and at the end I tweeted "He's done it! OMG Delpo you did it! Espera* Djokovic" and I didn't even realise until afterwards what I'd done.

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So yeah, I'm fairly hopeful that I might get somewhere with all this. The great thing is I'm doing it because I have a genuine reason to do it, which I find a much greater motivator than simply wanting to do it. And I'm doing it slowly and casually and in my own way which is basically immersion reading, immersion listening, followed (at some point when it just starts to happen) by unplanned writing, unplanned speaking.

(*Espera Djokovic = Waits Djokovic, ie Djokovic is already identified as the next opponent and is waiting).

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(5 comments | Leave a comment)

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Date:October 16th, 2013 05:50 pm (UTC)
I need to see things written down before I can hear them properly
I'm the same, and I think it's partly why I've always considered myself to have no affinity for languages, because all language lessons at school were firmly and determinedly orally based, the teachers insisting that hearing it/speaking it would make you learn it quicker. So I was sat there completely unable to retain anything because I hadn't seen it written down, and so I hated the lessons (also being a pathologically shy child who hated being made to speak in front of people, especially if it was something I was likely to Get Wrong to boot). But I did GCSE German, and at the same time half a year of Latin and a year of Spanish (to get out of one of the PE lessons, because I hated Games more LOL).
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Date:October 16th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC)
"also being a pathologically shy child who hated being made to speak in front of people" " I hated Games more"

OMG we're twins! In some respects I was lucky with my languages at school, because actually speaking the damn language was the last thing anyone was trying to prepare us for. Our learning was all about reading, listening and producing perfect written work, all of which I found extremely easy. Unfortunately the emphasis on output being perfect put most of us off ever daring to actually speak.

Nowadays language GCSEs seem to involve huge amounts of speaking, loads of controlled assessments etc, and I'm not sure I'd do very well at all.

completely unable to retain anything because I hadn't seen it written down

I've always had problems in meetings because of that. Either I participate in the meeting, in which case I can't remember anything that was said or what I agreed to do, or I take detailed notes in which case some arse always taps me for doing the minutes. Which is tricky because I'm not necessarily writing everything down - I'm more likely to be writing stuff like "For fuck's sake how many more times do we have to listen to this arsehole talking complete shit." But you can't give that as a reason for not doing the minutes so it's lucky that I can retain - retain but not process - large chunks of what people said if I get enough peace and quiet to go straight back to my desk and type it all up. Then I read it, and then I can process it.
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Date:October 16th, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC)
I still managed to get an A in German, but that was entirely due to the fact I was good at exams rather than good at the language. I can barely remember any of it now, other than a few words.

People (read: my boss) take the piss out of me at work for constantly carrying a notebook around with me, but I get so many instructions if I don't write them down immediately I'm bound to forget something. (also, both the people I work for have the world's worst memories, so I need to retain facts for three people, hah!)
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Date:October 17th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
Hello, DorsetGirl --

I too am going to be taking part in the Harry Potter Multilingual Readalong. My current target language is German, but I've studied Spanish off-and-on many times over the years and am going to try to also read Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal. Maybe we can help each other out, if (when!) we run into trouble with our readings.

I love that you've found motivation for studying in a real-world interest.
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Date:October 17th, 2013 10:41 pm (UTC)

My copy arrived today and I was very happy to read the first sentence straight off, better than my son who has just got an A* at GCSE! My biggest problem, I think, is that I may just end up reading the Spanish words without taking in any meaning. But I may stick with that for a while anyway, just to see what happens.

It's going to be an interesting project - I've never tried to read a book in a foreign language before, and I've never been part of a group reading project before. Looking forward to it!
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