Jul 21, 2009, 9:26 PM
Post #7 of 27
Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish
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It is extremely hard, and a hell of a chore to learn a new language late in life. About ten or 15 years ago, Doris and I met a couple of elderly American ladies in the village of Ajijic. We shared a table with them in an open air restaurant. The two ladies were both retired university professors of language. The were both fluent Spanish speakers. One of them asked me if I spoke Spanish? When I told her I was having a hard time learning the language, She told me the older a person is, the harder it is to learn a new language. I had read that before, but she gave me some new insight about it. She said that up to the age of about fourteen, the area of the human brain that controls language is receptive to learning new languages, but is gets progressively harder to learn a new language after that.
She told me that studies had shown that when a child is first learning to speak, they must hear, and understand a word an average of 65 times before it becomes a part of their vocabulary, and people "our age" (old guys) must hear and understand a new word an average of 185 times before it becomes a part of our vocabulary. There are probably many exceptions to that. I don't feel so dumb after having that chat with her. I just think of how many thousands (millions) of words there are in any language, and mentally imagine multiplying those thousands of words by 185 now. Many times, I will read or hear a word in Spanish that I know I have used, or studied before and I can't remember what it means. Besides the possibility of having a senior moment, I figure maybe I just need to hear and understand it another 160 or170 times or more.
People that come here and say that they are going to attend a language school for a week or two to “learn Spanish” and expect to be able to speak and understand Spanish in a couple of weeks are just deluding themselves. It usually takes at least three years of intensive study to learn any new language fully. I've been here a long time, but I get lazy about it and don't constantly study Spanish like I should. If I had a pressing need, like making a living, I would be more diligent about it.
Some years ago we went to the US and visited our family in Napa, and we then went up to Tacoma to visit Doris' Brother Chavo (Salvador), her Mom, Sara (Sarita) was already up there visiting him. I came home a couple of months before Doris did. I saw some Tablemate tables on sale on the Internet for a very good price, and they are hard to find down here normally. It took me about three days to figure out how to order them and pay for them in Spanish, it was a hassle, but I did it. It also reinforced my determination to master Spanish. Stuff like that is easy to do when you have a Spanish speaker to help you, not so easy when you are alone.
Watching TV or DVDs in Spanish with English sub titles helps me, everybody needs to find whatever works best for them though. So far, I can go into a restaurant and order a meal in Spanish, I asked my very considerate wife and family here not to ask for a menu in English for me 20 or more years ago, An English menu just slows down the learning process. I can go into a barber shop and get my hair cut the way I like it, and make myself understood (barely) in stores and most businesses, some businesses, and most government agencies like to overwhelm you with rapid-fire Spanish. I know when I need to have Doris with me, although normally I have no hesitation about doing business anywhere in México.
I have nothing against my country or my countrymen, but I don't seek out Americans here. They are usually a source of embarrassment and ill feelings with Mexican people, always insisting on everyone speaking English, and everything including food preparation be done the American way. It is the quickest way to have Mexicans that do speak English forget it and tell you that they don't speak any English at all.
If I begin a conversation with any Mexican by apologizing for my bad Spanish (disculpa mi Español es malo) most Mexicans become very helpful, they really appreciate it when an expatriate will at least try to speak their language. Doors will open, and they will become very helpful.
Keep plugging away, we don't have any other choice if we want to live here comfortably.
"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo