Friday, February 26, 2010

learning Spanish

I'm really not starting from scratch, and that's nice. But inside there is a growing sense of awe as my small efforts at studying another language reveal how much I don't know. I'm beginning to get that delicious feeling that you get when you enter a new library and gaze at the shelves, and realize that this is just the first room and there are stacks and stacks and stacks of books that you could read that you've never read before. That undiscovered-country, whole-new-world feel.  (Um, to totally mix my metaphors. Sorry.)

I'm slowly reading through "El Leon, La Bruja y El Ropero"*. I know it's a bit lame to read, as my first attempt to finish a novel in Spanish, a book that was actually written in English, but I figured if I chose something I was super-familiar with, my familiarity with the story would carry me over the gaps in my vocabulary, and it would actually be a very efficient way to learn new words. So far, so good.

I'm reading lots of Spanish picture books to the kids. And I've got a workbook on Spanish verb tenses, so that I can regain the knowledge I had when I passed the AP test back in high school.

But do you know what's really drawing me on? Stuff like this:

Yep. Spanish music. I've found about four songs that I really, really like, and I'm learning the lyrics. Listening to Spanish music is making me fall in love with the language. Listening to Shakira's older stuff reminds me (don't laugh!) of reading John Donne. Not because it's as deep as his stuff, but because both Shakira (in Spanish) and Donne (in English) had a masterful grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of their language - their media - and exploited those strengths. I can especially hear it when I listen to one of Shakira's songs in the original Spanish, and then listen to the English translation. The music's still good in English, but you miss the rhythm of the words.

So, eventually, I want to get to where I can appreciate Spanish literature, and to where I can readily understand Spanish conversation. But for now, I'm really grateful for Spanish music, because it's showing me how this language I'm trying to learn is supposed to sound (something I wouldn't get if I all I heard was my own halting reading of "Huevos verdes con jamón"**). And it's making me excited about learning it, and given the mountain of work that lies in front of me if I'm going to get anything like competent in this - well, I'll take all the motivation I can get. 

I have lots of the "this will be a useful skill" motivation, but the music makes it fun.

peace of Christ to you, 

Jessica Snell

p.s. I am not recommending all of Shakira's stuff, btw. I'm sure you can use your own good judgement there. But a lot of her older stuff is really good. And I apologize for the cheesiness of the embedded music video - it's one of the cleaner music videos I've ever seen, but I know that's not saying much! And if you're curious about why he's saying "Ave Maria", well, as I'm translating it, it sounds like he's taking advantage of the fact that he's in love with a girl named Maria, but someone who knows Spanish better than I do told me he's saying he'll say a Hail Mary when he wins his love's heart. Either way, I love the enthusiasm of this song; it so perfectly captures that newly-in-love, young, excited feeling.

p.p.s. Also, as I'm teaching my five-year-old to read English, I am more and more in awe of anyone who learns English as a second language. Spanish, in contrast, is remarkably easy to read. It's so consistent phonetically.  But English! I knew English was supposed to be a hard language to learn to read, but now that I'm actually teaching someone to read it, I'm beginning to understand that on a whole new level.  And I'm teaching someone to read in English whose first language is English! Gracious. I guess that's what happens when your language is the bastard child of Latin and German.  It's strong and interesting, but it sure doesn't have the simple elegance of a Romance language.

*"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"

** "Green Eggs and Ham"


Tienne said...

I always look forward to reading your blog!

It's a very worthy enterprise to learn another language. I am amazed that you have the time! With kids and all the books you read, plus working on your novel and the daily activities of life, it's just amazing to me. Go you. :)

Jessica said...

Thanks, Tienne! I don't know that I do have the time . . . I know that I don't put as much time into it as I feel I should. Things like reading Spanish picture books to the kids help, because reading to them is a daily duty anyway, so it doesn't take any extra time.

Elena said...

Interesting observation about language. It hadn't occurred to me that it's the very things that make English such a pain to teach that also make it such a delight to write in--or that I ought to be consciously exploiting the bifurcated origins of our language in my poetry. Thanks for the insight! =)

Elena said...

It hadn't occurred to me that the very causes that make English so hard to teach are also what make it so much fun to write--or that I ought to be intentionally exploiting the bifurcated origins of our language in my poetry. Thanks for the insight! =)

Jessica said...

Elena - yay! I'm glad that helps you! My very favorite comment on this point (this is the reason I know about it) is from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who has a short couplet called "On Donne" that reads:

Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots
Wreathes iron pokers into true-love knots.

Quoting from memory here, so forgive any mistakes.

Now, probably Coleridge was referring to the metaphysical qualities of Donne's poetry (the dromedary being the spiritual and the physical?), but it occurred to me that that "wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots" describes the great glory of English poetry simply on an etymological level. Taking this strong, hard language and folding it over and over like you would if you were forging a knife blade, till you have a thing of great tensile strength, but also using all that Latinate beauty to, well, inform the form, so you also have a tool delicate enough to slice clean whenever you wield it.