In my very first post, I mentioned that I will be learning Spanish as my third language. In this post, I will talk about my history of trying to learn this language.
As you will see, this won't be my first attempt. Growing up, I was required to take a foreign language in school. I was given the option between choosing Spanish or French (the only two choices at my Junior High), and I chose Spanish because it was the second most spoken language in the United States.
After taking six years (if I remember correctly) of Spanish classes in both Junior High and High school, I finally became fluent... or not.
After finishing school, the most I could say for myself was that I knew a few words here and there and could conjugate verbs in four tenses. I couldn't really speak without sounding like Tarzan... and understanding native speakers? Forget about it!
And it's not like I failed the classes or anything. I actually did quite well. The problem is that learning how to pass a test is quite different from learning how to use the language. The educational system here places a high emphasis on learning grammar and memorizing vocabulary, and not so much on the actual comprehension of native speech.
I think the system kind of forces things to be this way. Results need to be measured and documented, and what better way to do so than to hand out tests? The time available in school, although limited, should give most people more than enough time to memorize grammar rules and basic vocabulary to be tested on later. But listening comprehension, or the ability to speak without errors or hesitation? That takes thousands of hours to get a good enough handle on. Compare that to the five or so hours of classroom time per year for only two thirds of the year.
So it should come as no surprise that 99% (an exaggeration, but it certainly feels true) of students can pass the tests, but are no where near fluent.
Anyway, after my experience with the school system, I went on a trip to Argentina. Although it was a few years removed from my last Spanish class, I still retained enough to order food and to not get lost on the subway.
While I was there, I decided to go the bank one day to exchange some of my dollars into pesos. I had heard that the rate at the hotel wasn't the best and I didn't want them to pull one over on me. So I went to a bank across the street. As I came in, I saw a sign that said that the minimum that could be exchanged was "quinientos dólares".
Perfect, I had fifty right there in my pocket.
I waited in line and when it was my turn, the teller was telling me that she couldn't exchange my money. I couldn't understand what was going on. She kept telling me "quinientos dólares" and I kept showing her my fifty dollars while nodding my head saying "sí". Some guy on line joined into the conversation and was also telling me "quinientos". After realizing I was confused, he repeated in English "five hundred dollars".
After finally realizing that I was confusing quinientos (500) with cincuenta (50), I walked away in shame and went back to the hotel with my tail between my legs.
A few years went by and I realized that I was starting to forget what little Spanish I knew. I found a church that was offering free Spanish classes and enrolled. Just like in school, the focus was on vocabulary and verb conjugations, but at least this time the class was taught in Spanish, so I got a little bit more exposure to the actual language. Also, the teacher was really nice and I enjoyed my time in it. While it did get my Spanish back to where it once was, I don't really think it took me beyond.
I also ran into the same problem I had with my six years of school... I didn't put in enough hours of actual work to make any actual progress. While I paid attention in class (which was held once a week), I didn't really do anything Spanish outside of it and did my homework 15 minutes before the class (sometimes even copying from a classmate!).
Eventually, other things in life started getting in the way and I no longer had the time to travel to and take the class. A few years went by until finally, around September of 2016, I decided I was going to learn Spanish once and for all...
Continue on to My history with Spanish (part 2).