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Peter


Jul 19, 2009, 11:08 AM

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Developing An Ear for Spanish

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I read well in Spanish but I cannot hear it well. Watching television is impossible, although I pick up words here and there I cannot keep up with the flow of conversation. I read books, newspapers, and anything in Spanish I can get my hands on, so for that I have a good vocabulary.

English has more inflexion and tonal variation, variance in levels of accent and length of syllables, all of which make it easier to hear though more difficult to speak, a reverse of the problems for a native Spanish speaker learning English than what I experience. For that reason the schools here seem unprepared to help me achieve the next level.

I have lived in Mexico for several years though in an area where very little English is spoken. I have become fluent in Spanish albeit at a very basic level for conversation though my reading level is much higher. After this much time here in Mexico I have experiences that are uniquely Mexican so that my recollection and understanding of these events is in Spanish, and I even find myself thinking in Spanish.

I function fairly well here although with some limitations, though none so severe as to impede me from conducting my daily business and living pretty much like a local in a typical non-upscale colonia near the Centro. I have friends here none of which speak any English whatsoever.

I do make progress with my conversational skills but it seems so slow as to be at an impasse and that I do need to find some way to leap forward. Any suggestions? Or any related experiences? I know of no whitebread (white-bred) gringo that has crossed this barrier.



esperanza

Jul 19, 2009, 1:45 PM

Post #2 of 27 (9319 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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...I know of no whitebread (white-bred) gringo that has crossed this barrier...

Apparently we have not met. You live here in Morelia?




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Peter


Jul 19, 2009, 7:16 PM

Post #3 of 27 (9297 views)

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Re: [esperanza] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Correct and correct; we have not met, yet, and I live here in Morelia. You have overcome that barrier and can understand Spanish language television as easily as if it were in English? I am looking forward to the day I can understand even part of it, more than the few words and extremely few phrases I can grasp now, not that I am a fan of TV but that it is probably the single most effective tool to tune up for in-depth, one-on-one conversation.

Was hearing the language your biggest hurdle? Or did you start learning Spanish as a child?

Of course I will continue reading and building vocabulary but the problem is not just words I don't know, I can't hear even the most simple words I do know well. My friends and I get used to speaking with one another and converse well, just not in depth. Upon introducing me to other folk they will often tell them I speak and understand fairly well, but I think that it just relative, they know few gringos who hardly have a clue how to speak their language.

Of what I do speak little has come from conversation but from thinking it out, applying grammar I have learned, and saying it as best as I can work it out. It usually would not come out as they may say it but I can at least be understood. Some years of practice at this has led to improvement but at some point I hope to be able to hear and apply the "music" of the language.


esperanza

Jul 19, 2009, 9:14 PM

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Yes, I understand Spanish-language television as easily as if it were English.

I started learning Spanish as an adult.

I've been living in Mexico either part or full time for nearly 30 years.




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raferguson


Jul 20, 2009, 2:02 PM

Post #5 of 27 (9260 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Get a tutor for conversation, one hour at a time, once or twice a week. Apparently your problem is understanding what you hear, so you need conversation at a somewhat slower pace and more limited vocabulary until you can get up to speed. This will also help you speak better and more confidently. I attribute my success in learning Spanish to tutoring. I used to get graduate students from the university, native language speakers from various countries.

The TV does talk pretty fast, although I find it much easier than radio news, which lacks visual cues, and switches topics (and countries) about every other sentence.

I also learned Spanish as an adult, and can watch TV without difficulty. It may not be quite as easy as watching TV in English, but I understand what they are saying.

Another thing that you might try is watching old movies in Spanish. They tend to be slower paced, less slang, etc. I tell people to avoid comedy programs, too many double entendres, cultural references that you won't get, slang, etc. I still miss a lot of the jokes on comedy programs.

With DVDs, you might be able to watch a movie with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles, which I find the best way to learn. If I missed what they said I can read it, and figure it out. If the subtitles are in English, then I get distracted by disagreeing with the translation. ;-)

As a teacher of English as a Second Language, I know that some students do better in some areas of a language than others. I don't know why that is, but it is occasionally very obvious that one of my students is advanced in many areas, but deficient in another area. You are not alone.

Good luck.

Richard


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Peter


Jul 21, 2009, 6:05 PM

Post #6 of 27 (9212 views)

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Re: [raferguson] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Thanks for your reply. Finding a tutor in Morelia should not be too difficult. I guess I just have to keep slugging it out with study and practice and be prepared that it may take some time yet.

I had been told before that the old movies have a dialog that is easier to follow. The tianguis is probably loaded with copies of old classics. Perhaps someone might suggest a title or an actor that typifies that style. I'm sure Cantinflas is out - though I enjoy his antics even if I can't (who can?) follow his dialog.

As to why some people have problems in some areas while doing well in others, discussions in private replys have suggested that different languages require particular parts of speech that at an early age our minds develop to learn our native language and then shuts out other parts that may be necessary later for using a different language, and that this begins to take place as early as eleven months of age. An older person would find this difficult if not nearly impossible to restart. If Spanish was spoken in your childhood home, by a grandmother, or a housekeeper or nanny, and though you did not learn the language then you may still possess those brain connections making it much less difficult to learn later. This could also be why learning a third language comes much more rapidly, as many people report.

Another thing I want to try is reading a play script with someone, a script being spoken dialog as opposed to a book that is written solely to be read. I have not yet found a book of plays or skits written in Spanish in bookstores I've visited but such is sure to turn up eventually.

Again, thanks, and thanks to others that have responded and may yet respond. This seems to be unlocking some mysteries for me and hopefully helping others on the same path. Some of us just seem to need to work harder in certain areas than others. Who said learning a foreign language is easy? I have heard, though, that for older people especially, learning another language is one of the best exercises for keeping the mind young and alert.


(This post was edited by Peter on Jul 21, 2009, 6:10 PM)


Papirex


Jul 21, 2009, 9:26 PM

Post #7 of 27 (9198 views)

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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.


Rex
"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo


raferguson


Jul 22, 2009, 4:51 PM

Post #8 of 27 (9166 views)

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Re: [Papirex] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Certainly it is true that it is easier for young children to learn languages than adults. I have heard different ages cited, as low as ten years old. I know that my spouse used to teach 6th grade, so kids about 11 years old. If a German or other child came into the class not speaking English, that kid would be conversational by the end of the school year.

I have read contradictory statements about whether it is easier to learn languages at, say, age 20 vs. 50. I was pretty successful in learning French in my late 40s, although I did not stick to the study long enough to be fluent.

One study that I just looked at discussed the additional difficulty faced by someone who has limited literacy in their native language;.I have seen that in my own students, some of whom are marginally literate in Spanish. But obviously marginal literacy in English is not an issue among the people here, who by and large write very well.

And I guess there is some evidence of a gradual loss of mental sharpness with age, with experience helping to cover for the lack of mental sharpness in most cases. Certainly my mother, in her late 80s, is now unable to learn even simple new technologies. However, if you are learning a new language, past experience is not going to help you, unless your past experience includes learning another language as an adult!


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Papirex


Jul 22, 2009, 5:44 PM

Post #9 of 27 (9163 views)

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Re: [raferguson] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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I think that learning Spanish grammar is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to learning the language for an English speaker. Spanish grammar seems to be backwards to me. In English I might say “I am going to the store.” The Spanish equivalent might be something like “To the store I am going.” I think that people that speak another language other than English may have an advantage with the grammar.


I agree that kids pick up a new language very fast. Over 20 years ago we brought one of our nephews with us for a visit with his Mexican side of his family including his grandmother. His father is my cuñado, a Mexican-American and his mother is a Canadian. He was born and raised in Tacoma and he spoke no Spanish at all. He was about ten years old at that time.


We were staying at my suegras apartment in México City. They are privately owned apartments with a couple of common patios, one of the patios is very big and the kids that lived there used to play soccer in it a lot. The kids that lived there used to ring the bell at the apartment to ask him to come out and play with them. It was kind of amusing at first because they could not communicate with each other. The local kids spoke no English, and our sobrino spoke no Spanish.


After a week or 10 days we had gone somewhere and when we came home we walked past the big patio. Our sobrino and the local kids were playing soccer. The kids including our sobrino were all talking to each other in Spanish. It might not have been very correct Spanish, but our sobrino seemed to be very comfortable speaking in his new language that he did not know a word of two weeks before.


Kids learn fast.


Rex
"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo


Oscar2

Jul 23, 2009, 8:01 AM

Post #10 of 27 (9136 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Peter,

TV programming of different kinds such as novellas and other Mexican programs, I too have difficulty understanding from time to time. Although some of the words are at times beyond my Spanish comprehension, what ails me most is my hearing acuity. The players in novellas are known to get emotionally charged and the language speed for me can at times become a blur. I get bits and pieces and sort of surmise the gist of what is being said with the help of innuendo, eye rolling and more, but not always.

I too fret over this dilemma and sort of don’t enjoy admitting that just maybe understanding correctly is being “tail-ended” by the ongoing auditory frequency drop outs, such as some lows and highs missed, muffled or kind of blurred by ears that keep getting younger as we speak …… ;-)

If I crank up the volume, which can be a bit disturbing, clarity seems to make its mark, especially English speaking programs. Soooo, what to do? Well, I purchased something called “TV Ears” from Costco, which delivers wireless infrared audio to a set of earphones with a pitch (frequency) adjustment and volume control. Yes, you bet, this helped tremendously! Now I’m not suggesting this is an issue with you but it has been for me, and if this is a possibility, hopefully this will help.

Buena Suerte


La Isla


Jul 25, 2009, 2:21 PM

Post #11 of 27 (9075 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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The suggestions made here by other posters for improving listening comprehension in Spanish are excellent, and I don't have anything to add to that part of the discussion. However, I wanted to say a little bit about my experiences over the years learning Spanish.

I began studying Spanish in high school and went on to major in it in college and eventually got an M.A. in Spanish language and literature. However, none of this really taught me how to use the language in everyday situations, something I only just began to pick up after spending the summer between my junior and senior years in college in Mexico City, studying at the UNAM, but most importantly living with a Mexican family. While I was in their house, I spoke only Spanish to the señora, her daughter Carmina (who was just a few years older than me), and to the live-in maid/cook. By the end of 3 months, I was starting to feel comfortable using Spanish to get around the city and have conversations with all sorts of people. At the end of the summer, I realized how far I had come when I was able to have a telephone chat on a public phone on a noisy corner in the city in Spanish and was both able to understand and make myself understood.

However, in spite of all the years I've spent working to maintain and improve my Spanish-language skills, I still sometimes have trouble understanding when someone (usually someone I don't know, in public situations or on the telephone) speaks to me very quickly. I just ask them to repeat what they've just said (¿mande?) or to speak more slowly. I also have problems understanding every word when I go to see a movie in Spanish, especially if the characters are using colloquial or regional forms of Spanish. It can be frustrating at times, but now that I'm living in Mexico permanently, with some patience and perseverance, I find that my listening comprehension is slowly improving, and I'm sure, Peter, that the same thing will eventually happen to you!


normamc288

Jul 26, 2009, 12:56 PM

Post #12 of 27 (9047 views)

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Re: [La Isla] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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When we lived in Melaque for a number of months, the Mexicans used to tell their friends "she speaks Spanish very well, she does not understand Spanish" and they went on to say "he speaks no Spanish but understands very well." I want to reach the point of understanding. I guess I'll put the TV on as I was told, to the novellas. People say that helps. I just love all the notes that everyone sends in. With all the info you all are sending, I can be fluent in no time.......well, maybe not no time but ya know what I mean. Norma


Peter


Jul 28, 2009, 1:40 PM

Post #13 of 27 (9009 views)

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Re: [Oscar2] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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With a career in aviation, missile testing, swimmer's ear, surgery, etc., I do have hearing loss but the doctors tell me my range of hearing is better than normal, i.e., no dropouts at either end of the hearing range and a fairly straight line throughout. Your mind compensates for the loss kind of as an auto-level or volume control, but like a TV with the volume turned up and no signal coming through there is an increased level of noise. For me this means I hear people well unless there is much background noise as in a crowded place, or any typical place in Mexico. So for me those "TV Ears" may be a good idea for my late-night TV viewing so as not to disturb anyone.

There are new, tunable,sophisticated hearing devices that some people claim work wonders for hearing things in Spanish. Given that my hearing is good, though diminished, might likely mean that I do not need such a device. But only a good hearing test could answer that question. I tend to think there are sounds we just never learned to listen for, and circuits that may have shut down because we never used them when younger. Fortunately I am a rather young retiree, in my mid-50's, so perhaps I have a slight advantage over other of my fellow ex-pats.

Response to my question in this thread has shown me that I am not alone, and even after a decade here many others are still struggling, and I might even be a bit ahead of the game. I have worked very hard at learning the language which seems to be paying off, it's just not time to relax yet but maybe to take a new tack.

To communicate with my amigas, novias, and such by phone we just send messages. Without the visual cues of speaking in-person telephones really frustrate cummunication. From doing this I make another discovery, I am a much better speller in Spanish than most of my Mexican friends (Why not? I've mostly learned from reading.), and since they are spelling phonetically they are not differentiating some common sounds. What we may think we are not hearing, they may not be speaking. I often have to read then pronounce what they wrote to understand them at times. If there is more than one way to spell something they, it seems, will usually pick just the opposite. An actual example: If I ask my friend when is she coming by to visit, she might reply, "Lla boy."

Although Mexico is by far the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world our textbooks are geared for Spain. The basics may be largely the same but taken into the street it is quite different. Where I am at now I need Mexican Spanish, phrases that are commonly spoken in las calles. I understand a publisher in Mazatlan that frequents this site has written such a book, geared for the language as spoken here in Mexico. I have not yet seen the book and will try it, no doubt it will help structure my speech but still will need listening exercise. For that tutoring will be helpful, if I find someone I'm somewhat tuned to.

To structure my speech, as I cannot hear and understand well enough to copy a native-speakers patterns, I invoke "Star Wars" Yoda. Me it helps much when like Yoda I speak.

One needs to be able to understand when the words are run together, as the people usually speak. That means phrases, learning to understand and use common phrases. Being familiar and rapid with all the possible associated verb conjugations, I think is how to direct my next phase of learning.


Oscar2

Jul 29, 2009, 2:26 PM

Post #14 of 27 (8980 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Peter,

A stream of mailed flyers, emails and more pertaining to hearing loss and restoration is very commonplace and yes, I sometimes, and inwardly sometimes reluctantly read about the latest in hearing technological miracles which supposedly grace our lives today. For years now, who like many, I hate to admit my hearing is diminishing to a point where yes, I too can be a candidate for a hearing aid contraption.

At the insistence of my wife who encourages me to seek the latest and best of what is available, from time to time, has made headway in me seeking assistance. For example, Costco will give you a “free” hearing exam and tune you in to one of their lesser or elaborately priced hearing aids which range between $2k too $4k installed out the door, on a 30 or so day money back trial bases.

On a couple, two, three occasions I’ve acquiesced and again reluctantly tried a fit of some of these, computer programmed and elaborate type hearing aids but the feel of these things hanging in my ears was just too uncomfortable and disconcerting. So I’d return them, seems almost routinely. As I get younger, reality will one day, later, hopefully then sooner, will knock on my door so loud and where I can barely hear it, I’ll probably run, not walk to the latest hearing aid specialist.

As for one on one, minimum background noise conversations, normally I have no issues there and find myself comfortable with this. Now when speaking Spanish, when possible, which isn’t as often as I’d like, hiring Mexican day workers for necessary chores, occasionally this makes it possible. I provide lunch and engage in interesting exchanges telling of their hometowns in Mexico, their family ties, and their current existing situations. I’ve found that Mexican’s family ties are abiding and strong with an obligation to no longer be dependent on them or even more-so, contribute to the welfare of folks back home.

If things go as planned, we will visit Guad and Ajijic again, soon this year and finally get to visit Morelia. We’ve wanted to visit there and Patzcuaro, for sometime now and this will give us an opportunity to do so. I personally enjoy your fresh Morelia entries, which give it a color well appreciated. Its good to see an acceptance of what is, and how one can work and enjoy, as best possible, with that which has always been there, in its own way…


Hasta Luego


Peter


Aug 3, 2009, 1:17 PM

Post #15 of 27 (8894 views)

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Re: [Oscar2] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Amazingly enough, since I started this thread my listening abilities seemed to have improved somewhat. This could be that I am just a bit more focused on this task than before. I still have a long way to go but my frustrations have eased a bit. I watch the news every morning and though the the speech is too rapid television news is presented about 50% visual so that I can usually get the gist of it, enough to tip me off if there is something of vital importance I need to be aware of, like the passing of Michael Jackson a couple weeks ago. Joking. I am starting to pick up a bit more of the words and phrases on television and this has provided some encouragement.

Morelia is a very Mexican city, very little English is spoken here. Those who speak some English love the opportunity to try their English on me, but in almost every instance my Spanish far exceeds their English-speaking abilities which usually surprises them. Living here has no doubt accelerated the learning process. I can converse one-on-one with friends with ease though at times I get stumped with easy words.

Verbs like "costar" and "acostar" or "pagar" and "apagar" have entirely different meanings but sound alike when preceeded by words ending in "a." Mis-hearing these words take my understanding of the conversation off in another direction that makes no sense. At that point I can get sidetracked trying to make sense of it and lose the gist of the entire conversation. It can get comical at times when responding with something pertaining to the misunderstood word that I am trying somehow to figure how this fits our conversation, and we both become confused. These moments just add to the fun and adventure of living in another country.

Very gregarious the culture, the people make effort to include everyone in their conversations, activities, and celebrations. Since I am the foreigner they all want to accomodate me and make me feel at home. This is in vast contrast to the attitude of the people back in the US.

I have not left Mexico in almost two years now, but when I had travelled back to my native Southern California where there is a large immigrant population I have sought the opportunities to converse with some of the more recent arrivals to the US, particularly those from Michoacan. As I am fairly well-travelled in this state I can usually comment on something particular to their hometown. This not only astonishes them and opens the communications channels, it reassures them that not all the folks living in the US outside their immigrant community are the same, some actually value them as people and care about their well-being. It makes their lives a little less lonely and re-instills pride and dignity that can get lost in the American shuffle. That is the courtesy the people here in Mexico extend me.

So Oscar, if you have not yet visited our city of cantera rosa I hope you have the opportunity to do so soon. Just let me know when you are coming so perhaps we can get together.


La Isla


Aug 3, 2009, 5:36 PM

Post #16 of 27 (8881 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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"I still have a long way to go but my frustrations have eased a bit."

Peter, you have hit on an important point with this sentence: psychological factors play a huge role in language-learning, and when you can get rid of negative mind-sets like feeling frustrated, you'll find that you will make better progress in your attempts to improve your listening comprehension. Sometimes I just let the Spanish wash over me, and I relax and try not to understand every individual word and phrase, and, lo and behold, comprehension happens!


morgaine7


Aug 3, 2009, 6:01 PM

Post #17 of 27 (8876 views)

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Re: [La Isla] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Quote
Sometimes I just let the Spanish wash over me, and I relax and try not to understand every individual word and phrase, and, lo and behold, comprehension happens!

What a wonderful way of saying it!! Yesterday my neighbor came over for a "chat" that ended up lasting three hours, and I think that's exactly what I must have done. No way do I actually "know" three hours' worth of Spanish, but we managed to cover a lot of ground. Beer helps! ;-)

Kate


La Isla


Aug 3, 2009, 6:17 PM

Post #18 of 27 (8872 views)

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Re: [morgaine7] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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In Reply To

Quote
Sometimes I just let the Spanish wash over me, and I relax and try not to understand every individual word and phrase, and, lo and behold, comprehension happens!


Quote
What a wonderful way of saying it!! Yesterday my neighbor came over for a "chat" that ended up lasting three hours, and I think that's exactly what I must have done. No way do I actually "know" three hours' worth of Spanish, but we managed to cover a lot of ground. Beer helps! ;-)


Beer does help, or, in my case, a glass of wine. I've often suggested to my students that they try and practice their English in a bar, as long as they don't overdo it, the drinking, not the conversing. If they drink too much, they'll end up not being able to speak any language at all!



(This post was edited by La Isla on Aug 3, 2009, 6:21 PM)


robrt8

Aug 3, 2009, 8:02 PM

Post #19 of 27 (8859 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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I can relate to much of what you're experiencing, Peter. I'm enjoying your posts.
You must have figured by now there's no magic button that can shoot us to the next level.
It's work and more work. Then more surprises and even more work.
I've got a tip for ya' that may help. Try recording the newscasts and play them back a few times. Many of the major news outlets offer podcasts as well.
I get stumped by a word I'm not familiar with, which ruins the rest of the sentence that follows.
Maybe I can understand it based on its context, or I have to look it up. But while figuring it out I've lost the rest.
Repeated listening has helped me quite a bit. With an mp3 player you can listen at the volume you wish.


Oscar2

Aug 4, 2009, 4:54 PM

Post #20 of 27 (8828 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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Phillip,

It can be surprising and sometimes, if you play with it, down-right hilarious if you couple it with a smile and a glint in your eye. I really enjoy opportunities when I can speak Spanish, knowing well, at times I’ll be standing at a precipice of mistakes, blunders, and sometimes potentially embarrassing situations. Sooooo, I try to keep it light hearted and easy going, knowing well, the ones I am speaking too have already tuned in on my modest efforts.

I’ve taken the following from one of my previous posts, to repeat one of my excursions while in Guad sometime back. I guess one can say what you, I and many experience tuning in our tone fork for better sounding and listening talents and I for one, as well, keep trying to harmonize where I’ve boasted, “give my a solid year in a purely Spanish speaking town, and I’ll be speaking like a native"….. ;-)

A short story:

My Spanish improves a little at a time, and sometimes I can have fun with it when speaking to fluent Mexicans. At times inadvertently, things don’t come out exactly the way they should and at times with no mal intent things I say slip by and are caught under compromising, and/or somewhat embarrassing conditions that you can either fold or have lighthearted fun with.

For example, I went to the correo (post office) in Guad on business and started speaking my excellent Spanish to this somewhat middle-aged woman in earshot of two other women sitting across the counter from me. I made certain business requests and I was very pleasantly surprised as to how they were going out of there way to help, and managed to get done with what I direly needed.

I, in a burst of enthusiasm and gratitude for them accomplishing my business, I was a bit dubious I could get done, landed up talking indirectly to all 3 woman who all pitched in to finish the task. So I spoke to the first woman who initiated the assistance with a smile and a hint of play in Spanish that I was not only going to write her boss and recommend she receive a pay raise and/or promotion but in addition I told her in Spanish, I would take her to desayunar.

She looked at me with a delightful smile and a coquettish sparkle in her eye, and inquired what kind of breakfast I was going to take her out too. I quickly shot back with a toothy grin from ear to ear and with my excellent Spanish and good intentions: Te voy ah llevar a comer huevos de ranchero.

The women just about fell on the floor laughing, she looked at me with almost tears in her eyes laughing and with a mischievous, sly grin in her eye, mimicked what I had said, huevos de ranchero eh? Not yet quit up to speed on what I had said, with another toothy smile I replied, Claro. And they played into it again with such laughter, I finally got drift of what I had said and I too cracked up.

She looked at me again kidding and laughing and said, mejor traígame el ranchero! Again, all 3 women were on the floor while I felt like I was standing there in my calzones. Upon leaving, with smiles all over the place, the woman asked me to comeback sometime when I felt like taking them to desayunar………it was hilarious and fun! Next time you invite someone ah desayunar, please just order: huevos rancheros.


Peter


Aug 4, 2009, 7:46 PM

Post #21 of 27 (8818 views)

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Re: [Oscar2] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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huevos de ranchero eh? (...) mejor traígame el ranchero! Next time you invite someone ah desayunar, please just order: huevos rancheros.

That's a classic! Thanks for sharing. Either way that could have been an interesting breakfast date. See how friendly the people are here? I love Mexico.


Zarcero

Oct 13, 2009, 12:33 PM

Post #22 of 27 (8204 views)

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Re: [Peter] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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New guy here. Just paging through this great site and commenting on some of the more interesting threads, like this one.

I was raised bilingual (if that’s possible). However, my parents claim that I spoke Spanish before English. I speak both with no trace accents and have shuttle-lived between a few different countries in Latin America and the US, and have traveled through most of the other ones.

My experience is that those who claim they don't have an "ear" for Spanish is due to their efforts to continue to translate the Spanish into English as they listen to the Spanish, either consciously or unconsciously. I opine this is natural when the second language is learned later in life. This also has an effect on the speed to comprehend, which is why some people have trouble following the news. Newscasts, for the most part, are given in the most clearly spoken Spanish possible; it is Media Spanish. The real issue is that it is spoken rapidly. The common language is usually spoken slower, but is tainted with accents, slang, truncations, and slurs that may also make that aspect of it difficult to comprehend. Just trying understanding someone in Glasgow.

When one listens to his native language, he does not have go through a translation process. I opine that he goes through a (1) a phrase/sentence anticipation process, and (2) a picture process. By picture I mean if I say I think the sky is very blue today then your mind snaps to the color blue without a translation. However, before you heard the word blue, you were already engaged in a conversation with me that pre-announced some color was about to be mentioned. Your mind was already waiting for the color to be announced, so you were not caught by surprise (regardless of the color announced). In fact, you may have heard the same phrase or similar phrase at some time prior in another conversation, so your brain was already set up for this event. Now if I say to you pienso que hoy el cielo está muy azul, then you have to go through a series of translations not only for the word, but also the phrase, and verb rules, then your mind has to recall it's pictures during and after the translation. This slows everything down because you drop the anticipation aspect since the brain is working hard on other matters. A native speaker of course doesn’t have to do this, just like you don’t with English.

How to overcome this? It depends on the individual mind and its ability to adopt the new language as the primary language. However, what I have suggested to others, and who have also reported back to me that it works, is that the way to accelerate this is to learn songs. You have to learn the lyrics, sing the songs, and then sing along with these songs. I know this sounds silly, but this is actually one of the reasons we were taught to sing songs when we were children. The songs build on the sentence structuring, plus a song is a story that the mind can build a picture around. The lyrics will also be found in normal conversations in life and help with the anticipation process we go through in listening to speech.

I can expound on this further if there is interest with an example like El Reloj.


Saludos,


Mike


tashby


Oct 13, 2009, 3:20 PM

Post #23 of 27 (8188 views)

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Re: [Zarcero] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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I can expound on this further if there is interest...


Well, I'm all ears.....so to speak.

You certainly accurately described the "slowing down" process I go through as I hear then try to translate in my head.

Interesting that you mention songs. I've been listening to a lot more Spanish language music lately in the hope that it helps. Additionally, I recently started teaching a (very basic) English Class and the approach/materials encourage the use of music as well.

I'm sure that's not an accident.

Thanks.


Maritsa


Oct 14, 2009, 4:13 AM

Post #24 of 27 (8164 views)

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Re: [Zarcero] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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After living with my mexican boyfriend for 6 years, (in NC) I feel that I should comprehend much more than I do. When his sons were living with us, all I heard in the house was Spanish. (Except when we taught each other English/Spanish). When he tells me stories of Chiapas and his life, and I am focusing totally on what he is saying, I don't have much trouble understanding the story. And I can always stop him to question and make sure I got it. But in conversation, I can't always do that, because it continues on while I am still trying to figure out the last sentence.

Listening and trying to comprehend Spanish also made me realize that I have the same problem in English - I just don't pay attention. I often ask people to repeat what they have said in English. So I have been working on my listening skills overall.

The other day Timo and I were in the kitchen. Sometimes, when he is talking on the telephone, for example, he talks so fast that I eventually just block it out and go about my business. Anyway, I was watching TV or looking something up on the computer, and I guess he was talking to me, but my selective hearing blocked him out. He came around the corner to wait for my answer, and just shook his head, mumbling something about "esta mujer", and "cabeza como piedra." We usually laugh about it, but he does get annoyed with me sometimes.

I enjoy listening to music because I can replay it until I get it. Or, if the CD has the words written in Spanish, I look up the words that I don't know. Then I try to sing along, which helps my pronunciation and speed. Also, songs help me to learn phrases, and sometimes when I get stuck trying to express myself, I think of a line from a song. I like Los Tigres del Norte, K-Paz, Fito Olivares, and Chayanne just to name a few.

It's also fun making up your own lyrics.
Before we went to Mexico in 2006, I was listening to a Los Tigres del Norte song. The chorus goes:

Me estas esperando, Mexico lindo
Por eso mismo, me voy a ir
Soy un mojado acaudalado
Pero en mi tiera, quiero a morir.

My version was:

Me estas esperando Mexico lindo
Por eso mismo, me voy a ir
No soy una gringa acaudalada
Por eso en mi tiera, no importa a morir.

And the song " No tengo dinero"

No tengo dinero ni nada que dar
El unico que tengo es amor para amar(?)

My version:

No tengo dinero ni nada que dar
La unica que tengo es una casa a limpiar.

I also love Cantinflas, La India Maria, Vicente Fernandez movies. We watch the Pelicula Canal and Cine Latino a lot.


Zarcero

Oct 14, 2009, 7:20 AM

Post #25 of 27 (8143 views)

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Re: [Maritsa] Developing An Ear for Spanish

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“Well, I'm all ears.....so to speak…”

I would start with boleros. These are love ballads. The sentences in these songs have good structure and phraseology. One can study the verb tenses. The music generally makes the memorization easy.

As an example, here is a stanza from El Reloj.

Reloj no marques las horas
porque voy a enloquecer
ella se irá para siempre
cuando amanezca otra vez


In the first line the protagonist is asking the watch not to keep time.
In the second line he is telling the watch that if it does keep time he is going to go crazy.
In the third line he stating that his love will leave him forever.
In the fourth line he is stating that this will happen when she wakes up. Hence he wants the watch to stop time so that she does not wake up.

The first line itself is a grammar lesson. Here you have learned that a watch/clock does not “tell” time, but that it “marks” time. The tense is also in the imperative/command form in that he is telling the watch not to mark time, the colloquial being to “freeze” time. Notice that time is also referred to as las horas instead of tiempo.

Memorize songs like this and you will actually notice/hear that people talk like this out in the streets. Your ears get tuned to the phraseology and because of the music, these songs are easy to memorize.

I would recommend that for a first attempt, that you purchase or download a CD titled Boleros Para Siempre by José Feliciano. Load these onto an MP3 player. You can get the lyrics off of the internet for free, or if you get the CD the lyrics are part of the cover but you will need reading glasses of high magnification. You will hear these songs on the radio as well, sung by the likes of Alejandro Fernandez, Luis Miguel, etc.

Many of these songs are of Mexican origin as well. It marks you as an educated person when you know this music, which is an added benefit.

Saludos,

Mike
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