Wednesday, January 28, 2009


No, not the English word comment referring to a remark... it's the French word for What? I didn't hear what you said. It, like many French words, looks a whole lot more complicated than it actually sounds. It, in fact, shows off its romance language ties to Spanish, since it is pronounced surprisingly close to ¿Cómo? in Spanish, which means the same thing.

It also expresses how I feel in diving back into French again. It's not even so much of a diving in, as a testing of the water with a toe. Awhile back, and a couple of times at that, I waded about knee-high into Rosetta Stone, splashed around for a bit and then came right back out. I'm not going to lie; the thought of trying to articulate those guttural "r"s in the back of my throat makes me shirk away in fear. What if I just simply cannot do them justice?

What if an obnoxiously Americanized manner of curling my tongue prevails? ... or if I keep rolling them like a Spanish speaker? ... or if I try to make the sound and it comes out too strong? ... or... or what if, after all is said and done, no "r" exists? What if I try and it doesn't come out? Perhaps, it will make no sound at all. Just a little escaping air, a little shaky breath of uncertainty...

Maybe I'll just be really bad at it.

And maybe I won't.

And should I keep myself from trying to learn an entire language for fear of mispronouncing a letter in its alphabet? It seems that I already have.

By the way, what do French pirates say? Aaaarrrrrrrrrrr...

I don't know. Juh-nuh say pah.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Un tío brasilero

So I went to this Spanish language meetup group that happens once a month and, wouldn't you know it, I had the oddest experience ever. As I wrote to my friend in an excited email afterwards, Hablaba dos horas con un tío brasilero que me hablaba solamente en portugues mientras le hablaba solamente en español, y nos entendimos!!! (I talked for two hours with a Brazilian dude that spoke to me only in Portuguese while I spoke to him only in Spanish, and we understood each other!!!)

The only lie there, is that I only spoke to the tío brasilero for, like, one hora and not two... but sometimes I wind up messing up the simplest parts of a sentence (like the truth, facts, my name, etc.) while I concentrate really hard on not screwing up the rest of it.

But the real good news here is that I, by some miracle, understood some Portuguese. It sounded like what might happen if someone learned Spanish by reading lips only... and then proceeded, without ever hearing it spoken, to try and put their own sound system to it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'M DONE: The first book I've ever read cover-to-cover in Spanish...

... and I still don't know what it's about. Well, I do, but I'm still trying to tie it all together. All morning, I've been looking up literature reviews so that I can see other people's viewpoints on how all of these stories contribute to a greater lesson somehow.

On a less searching, and more superficial level, I really really enjoyed a couple of things about this chapter (and it's really hard not to like this first one):
  • Ahohándose en el mare mágnum de fórmulas abstractas que durante dos siglos constituyeron la justificación moral del poderío de la familia, la Mamá Grande emitió un sonoro eructo, y expiró. (Drowning in the great sea of abstract formulas, that during two centuries constituted the moral justification of the family's power, the Grand Matriarch emitted a loud burp, and died.) Classic. Pure poetry.
  • Then, the fact that el blablablá histórico is an acceptable Spanish way of writing "historical mumbo-jumbo" is pretty awesome. Or, at least, it's acceptable according to Señor Gabriel García Márquez, the writer. Blah blah blah.
This is some interesting new vocabulary from this last chapter making a slow entrance into my lexicon (very, very slow, some of it):

racimo=bunch, cluster
alborotado=agitated, excited, rowdy
padecer=to suffer from
yacer=to lie, be lying (physically, not verbally)
espumoso=(beer) frothy, (wine) sparkling
rugir=to roar; rugido=roar
rechoncho,-a=chubby, tubby, dumpy

And a fun one from a past chapter:
acribillar=to riddle (with bullets, questions)

And from my friend Tanja this morning:

And, what the heck, a couple from online sources, too:
garciamarquiano,-a=is an actual adjective describing anything pertaining to the author, Gabriel García Márquez

At any rate, I think I'm going to have to start trying my hand at Mandarin, since the woman at work insistantly greets me with Zao shang hao every morning, and smacks me on the arm if I don't answer back. It makes me nervous.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

For real now. I'm finishing this crazy book.

Thirteen pages. It sounds so harmless, but it's not. I've put away all the clothes in my room, even got rid of some piles of junk, and there's just not any other way to procrastinate it further. So here I go.

Ten pages left.

Eight pages left.


Díos, this book is too heavy (content-wise, not physical weight). I must read the rest another night. Crap, and I thought I'd finish, too. Casi. Almost.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Little vozitas in my head.

I notice this happening a lot, and I always wonder what the brain is doing, how the brain benefits from all of this. "This" being, as I got my dinner out of the fridge tonight, I became acutely aware of a little voice inside my head, creating Spanish phrases while I scarcely paid attention. Today it was:

... a mi, a mi, a mi, a mi me encantaría decirte una cosa.
... I, I, I, I would love to tell you something.

At least it made sense. Sometimes it makes syntactic sense (word order, right parts of speech, etc.) and not actual semantic sense.

The frequency with which this happens correlates to how much Spanish I've been using/hearing. The more I practice, the more vocal my brain becomes when I'm silent.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Finally finishing? And then what?

I can't explain to you how very much I have put off finishing a book in Spanish lent to me by my friend in Madrid. I could drone on and on about all of the things I've had to do that get in the way, but what it really comes down to is this: I'm scared. I'm scared of the work it takes to understand what I'm reading. I'm intimidated by the fact that--although I've studied Spanish formally for 5 years and informally for 4 more, and I've spent a grand total of four and a half months of my life linguistically immersed in Spanish speaking countries--there is still an enormously great deal that I don't know. It's scary, a little depressing, slightly daunting, and maybe embarrassing even.

I watched the film The Motorcycle Diaries last night (Diarios de motocicleta), and although I lamented the fact that there was not a way to (1) turn off the subtitles or (2) change them from English to Spanish (yes, sometimes Spanish movies have Spanish subtitles for the hearing-impaired), it was probably all for the best since I never can understand movies in Spanish anyways. Telenovelas (Spanish soap operas), yes. News broadcasts, yes. Bad game shows and talk shows, mostly yes. But never movies. I can only hear what I know I should be hearing. I may give an example of this later, but anyway, this is a tangent on the frustration I feel in the reading of this book, and akin to needing training wheels to ride a bicycle, but only on really bumpy driveways. My eyes serve as a fail-safe for my ears. Does this make any sense?

And back to the book: It is called Los funerales de la Mamá Grande and is escrito por Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose house I saw this summer in Cartagena, Colombia. I will now explain how 9 years of studying Spanish can make for such a lousy understanding of quality literature. Sentences like this. Words unfamiliar to me are in bold:

En el profundo corredor central, con garfios en las paredes donde en otro tiempo se colgaron cerdos desollados y se desangraban venados en los soñolientos domingos de agosto, los peones dormían amontonados sobre sacos de sal y útiles de labranza, esperando la orden de ensillar las bestias para divulgar la mala noticia en el ámbito de la hacienda desmedida.

Rather than try to wow you with my extraordinary reading skills, I will honestly tell you what this paragraph looks like to me upon a first once-over, without looking up any of the words. The words in parentheses are my best educated guesses:

In the deep/long central corridor, with plural noun in the walls where in another time they hung adjective pigs and verb (bled?) plural noun in the adjective Sundays of August, the plural noun (peonies?) slept verb (amassed?) on sacks of salt and tools of noun, waiting the order to verb (something about sitting?) the plural noun in order to verb (divulge?) the bad news in the noun of location of the adjective ranch.

So, you can see how this might hinder a good understanding of the general story.

Really, this is what it says once I spend ten minutes looking up the unknown words (yes, ten minutes, one paragraph.):

In the deep/long central corridor, with hooks in the walls where in another time they hung skinned pigs and bled deer in the drowsy Sundays of August, the farm workers slept piled up together on sacks of salt and farming tools, waiting the order to saddle-up the beasts/animals in order to divulge the bad news in the sphere/scope/range of the excessive/disproportionate ranch.

Now you understand where I'm coming from and why it has taken nearly two years to finish this book. It's scary, ¿a que sí? Wouldn't you agree?

¡Aquí empezamos!

Here we start. I have decided to blog my adventures through the bumpy waters of multilingualism. So far, I am only bilingual. I am hoping to expand upon that number. From here, the only way to go is up. ¡Vamos ya!