I admit it – I have been learning Spanish for about 25 years, although I was never truly focused on that goal until recently (necessity being a strong motivator).
And I’ll explain here a sort of pet peeve. Beginning of soapbox: I think it’s an odd way to discuss learning languages by using the term “my” French, or “my” Japanese. I’m quite sure I used that term before, (when I was but a child!) but now it seems annoying to me to describe a language as belonging to you when what you are really discussing is your fluency and skills.
I also feel strongly that if a person chooses to live in a country with a different national language, he or she should strive to learn the language. The citizens of the US practically demand it of immigrants, and in Mexico, I have noticed that people in general really appreciate it when I try to converse with them, even though I make lots and lots of mistakes. Lots! End of soapbox.
Somehow I thought that I would wait, silently learning, until I could speak nearly perfectly to start trying. That is not a satisfactory method of learning. (Duh! As a teacher, I surely should have known better!) Now I just jump in, and I probably make one or more mistakes in every other sentence. Everything is different – the sounds, and the word order: nouns have genders in Spanish, too.
Anyway, I began to learn Spanish, I would have to say, from singing songs in Spanish – and, by the way, it was hard for me to believe that so much music had been so completely unknown to me. There was an entire repertoire of popular music in Spanish that I was completely unaware of! I had heard two popular Spanish songs in the seventies that made a deep impression on me. I even remember where I was when I first heard them.
Beginning of ramble:
The first of the two songs was performed by a singer named Jose Jose (although I didn’t know his name at the time). It was called La Barca Del Olvido. One reason I think I liked it so much was that I could understand a lot of the chorus, probably from singing in Italian. The chorus lyrics begin
Espera un poco, un poquito mas,
Para llevarte mi felicidad.
and I would say that means
Wait a little, just a little more,
To take away my happiness.
The memorable part of the chorus employs a musical device called melodic sequence, the repetition of a melodic phrase at different levels of pitch.
The other song was by a group called Mocedades, from Spain. It is a very beautiful, famous, meaningful love song, and won a world-level prize in a songwriting competition. Its title is Eres Tu, and it is still very well-known. The beginning of the chorus, roughly translated, is
You are like the water in my fountain,
You are the flame in my hearth,
You are the wheat in m y bread,
Hmm – it’s so much more beautiful in Spanish!! No wonder I’ve never heard an English translation!
End of rambling aside.
I began to sing and perform songs in Spanish in the mid-eighties. From my traditional music training I knew that it was essential not just to sing the sounds of the language, but to understand them, and I translated every word, with Chon’s patient help. I learned and performed many songs.
But the first time I visited Mexico I didn’t understand anything at all. I could speak “food” pretty well, with reasonably good pronunciation, and that was it. In our house Chon and I only spoke English, so I really never praticed speaking Spanish unless I was in Mexico, and that was only for one, two, or three weeks every year. I tried, though, and Chon’s family was patient, too. They didn’t have much choice, really, and they always treated me extremely well. There are very few people in our little town even now who speak English. And something I have noticed is that even though students here take classes in English, they do not learn to speak it. There seems to be no “Conversational English” offered. Even students who get high grades in English only can read it (a little).
In case you have never thought about it, an English speaker must learn to use different muscles to correctly pronounce Spanish, so for many English speakers our speech will always have a big, fat accent, and we sound to Spanish speakers just as many adults who learn English sound to us English speakers. (Congratulations if you were able to follow that sentence!)
Anyway, I’d like to encourage anyone to learn a new language. If it interests you, or if you are motivated for some reason, give it a try! There are lots of good classes in the states. If you learn some beginning Spanish, your hispanic friends will enjoy your efforts, and it’s probably really good exercise for the brain.