End of Spanish Learning Era?

Four long years, Cynthia and I have studied Spanish in Singapore at Las Lilas School.  Over Whatsapp, one classmate mentioned that he is considering to drop our class and join another one.  One that is not as taxing as our advance level.  Another classmate reminded us that she too is leaving because her student visa is expiring.  She needs to go home.  This thought has lingered in my mind for quite some time.  And I have discussed this with Cynthia.  So, I followed the cue and mentioned that we too have decided to end our Spanish studying journey.  One classmate typed in Whatsapp, “Is this the end of an era?”

I suppose the answer is no.  There is no reason not to continue learning, outside a classroom setting.  I feel that, for quite some time, I have hit the plateau.  My passion seems to have deflated a little, when I am not getting as much from the 2 hours lesson as I used to.  There is an increased slowness in trying to comprehend the course materials during the class.  It is like a running marathon.  If you are not fit enough, after a while, you would simply walk and then, stop.  Linguistic ability is never my strength.  Having said that, I am most delighted to make it to this far.

To that, I thank my teachers at Las Lilas.  You are the most cheerful, knowledgeable, patience, and encouraging ones.  I also thank my classmates.  What a fun bunch you are.  And I thank my wife Cynthia for supporting me throughout the journey.  All the real time translation in whispers.  No, I won’t forget.

So what’ next?

Ten weeks ago, at the end of the 10-lesson course, I asked around the table to see if we were continuing.  One said, “What are we going to do if we are not?”  Cynthia and I found it rather amusing.  Indeed, for the last 4 years, every Tuesday we devote 2 hours learning Spanish.  Our dinner has always been a mad rush.  By the time we are home, it is ten o’clock.  This Tuesday, after we bid our farewell to our classmates and to Amelia, our beloved Spanish teacher, Cynthia asked me in private, “What are we going to do on Tuesday?”

I don’t know.  I miss making music.  That seems like eons in the past.  Come to think on it, that question never pops up in my head.  I can always find something else to do.  Enough time we have spent learning Spanish inside a classroom.  It is time to take what we have learned and have fun with the real world.  Watch some Spanish YouTube.  Read some Spanish news.  Chit-chat with Spanish chicas, or chicos.

Say What? It Is Level Pre-Advanced 1 at Las Lilas School?

Compare to my good Spanish classmate Monster, I am a lot more conservative.  When his colleagues asked him which level he is at after spending close to three years learning the language, he humbly replied, “Intermediate”.  After all these years you are still at intermediate? they would ask.  And he would reply, “Yes, intermediate”.  To be frank, I have no idea how many levels there are, what the next level is going to be.  I feel as though I am still at the elementary level.  Because I am still feeling so very inadequate.

The good news is that Cynthia and I have passed our exam.  My score is not that great, which means I have to study harder.  I treasure wake up calls like this.  We humans are the lazy bunch.  We need a kick every now and then to get us back on track.

Pre-Advanced 1 started with a new teacher Amelia.  Our previous teacher Alejandra is taking a short break and has returned to Spain to deliver a baby.  I think it has something to do with the Spanish culture.  All our teachers so far at Las Lilas School are lively and warm, cheerful and fun loving.  In today’s class, I have put in extra effort trying not to look like a retard (especially when Cynthia was stuck at her week long project management exam preparation course and could not be there to help me answering all the questions).  Otherwise, Amelia would be wondering what Alejandra has been teaching us all these while.

Going up one level has certainly come with added challenges.  Today’s class’s theme was fitness, or vida sana.  No more simple, overused verbs that we have been relying on for close to three years.  We now have to form sentences with more formal verbs.  Such as fruits and vegetables provides vitamins (comer frutas y verduras proporciona vitaminas), enough sleep rests the body (dormir suficientes horas descansa el cuerpo), and drinking too much alcohol damages the liver (beber mucho alchol dañar el hígado).

What else have we learned today?  Grammar, of course.  I was not even shocked by yet another new tense to conjugate, with all its irregularity glory.  It is affirmative imperative (imperativo afirmativo) and negative imperative (imperativo negativo), which is intimately linked to subjunctive (subjuntivo).  In fact, negative imperative takes the form of subjunctive while there are two exceptions for affirmative imperative.  I am still struggling with subjunctive (and the rest of other tenses to be honest).  How in the world do Spanish and Latino people manage to use grammar of such diversity?  Whatever secret they have, I admire their ability to express things around them in such colorful variety.

Some asked: What do you get out of learning Spanish in Singapore?  Unfortunately, I do not have an inspirational answer to that question.  Learning a language works my brain muscle, which I like.  It is a common hobby for Cynthia and I.  Developing a common hobby of any type is good for a couple, mostly.  And I still believe that learning any skill opens up opportunities in the future.

On a more practical note, last night we had non-stop thunderclaps for one good hour followed by heavy rain.  Immediately, I associated the event to one of Prince’s classic “Thunder”.  This morning, I have transfered three of Prince’s albums onto my wireless phone and listened to them in our car.  When the first song from “The Gold Experience” was played, I instantly recognized that the narrator was speaking in Spanish.  It was a pleasant surprise.  Not that I fully understood what “Nuestra presentacion especial comenzara en breve.  Pero antes un mensaje de nuestros auspiciadores” meant.  At least the narration was not that foreign to me, compares to the first time I heard the album in 1995.

In This Deep Pool Of Español

Today included, I have thirteen days to prepare for my upcoming Spanish examination.  Over the years, I have this recurrent dream.  In this dream, I would be inside an examination hall staring at exam questions that I have no clue on how to answer.  And it is always this sense of anxiety that wakes me up.  If I am to trace the root cause of this nightmare, it would likely be pointing to the time period when I was studying for my degree.  You see, in my four years direct master course, I only had three examinations.  In addition, only the last two mattered.  There was no examination at the end of the second year.  In theory, one could be bumping around for three years only to face the brutality of a series of tests in the span of a couple of weeks that determined one’s future.  You can imagine the boiling pressure.  No wonder we have so many pubs within the university perimeter, thanks to student’s syndrome.

How do you study for an examination?  For me, I often start with a timetable, laying out what I need to do on paper.  Systematically work through the activities and assuming that the plan is good (it has to be), everything is going to be OK.  This time is different.  For a start, after close to three years of learning Spanish, I am still hovering at the basic level of hi-how-are-you and my-name-is-so-and-so.  I may have learned a lot along the way.  But language is a skill that if you don’t use it, you don’t have it.  So I am doing some soul searching lately, on the things that I suck when it comes to Spanish.  I am looking beyond this upcoming exam and am looking at where my Spanish learning journey is heading.  I think I have been bumping around for a bit too long.

Our Spanish teacher has a beautiful way to describe the necessity of learning grammar; something to do with the structure of discourse; something to do with the expression of one’s wisdom.  Lately, I have been reading about communicating grammar in a discourse level.  I am no linguist or learning expert.  The jest of it, from what I have internalized, is that learners should interact naturally in a real communication act.  Since Cynthia is also learning Spanish (she is the reason why I am in this deep pool of español), we should use each other as a practice target communicating on topics that we have no idea where they are coming from (versus artificial learning environment whereby we know what is to come).  Why haven’t I thought of that?  I could talk about the monthly S$7 lunch special at my canteen today.  I could talk about the pumpkin soup, assorted German sausages, sauerkraut, potato glatini, salad, black forest cake, and a drink I had today.  I could talk about the friendly patrol attendant I met today, whom was surprised that I know the timing of their shifts.  He would be surprised had he know that I also know besides pumping petrol, he has to clean the kiosks and clean the toilets.  I could talk about this lovely song I heard over the Spanish Internet radio station while I was stuck in the traffic this morning.  I wrote down the lyrics and it went something like “deep inside you cry cry cry, don’t let your hope die die die”.  I could talk about how I love Google because with a mere fragment of lyrics, it tells me that the song is by Oceana and it is called “Cry Cry”.  I could talk about how I am determined to memorize the verb conjugation, to relearn something basic such as numbers, seasons, and days of the week, to practice Spanish using the two textbooks we have bought and have yet used, and to inject some Spanish vibes into my head through the Spanish Internet radio every day from now till March 8.

OK.  It is time to do some serious research on how to say all of the above.  Be right back.

How I Met My Mother (At A Dumpster She Said)

In one Spanish class, our teacher Alejandra posed a question: How did you meet that someone important in your life? For those who have kids at home, you must have been bombarded by soul searching questions like this.  What a way to relive your childhood.  As for me, attending a Spanish class is as close to reflecting on my childhood education as I can get.

My mother often said: I found you in a dumpster. Looking back, that must be one of the most profound things I have come across at that very young age of mine.  A simple statement that encapsulates so many concepts.  I found you in a dumpster creates a disassociation, a resignation, and a diversion to the million possible emotions that went through my mother’s head when I was hopelessly naughty, when life seemed unbearable.  Often, I saw my mother silently staring out of the window in tears for hours.  And all I could say was I am sorry.  I guess back then it was hard for my mother to explain to her son how disappointed she was, how heartbroken she was.  Hence, I found you in a dumpster is a good proxy to sum up all her emotions.

Besides, I as a small kid would probably understand that statement better than her trying to tell me what she was going through.  Looking back, I guess it was also her way to teach me the notion of a two-way love.  Not just from her to me, but also I to her.  When I first conceptualized I found you in a dumpster, I thought it was a cool thing.  Monkey God (from a Chinese legend) came from a piece of worthless stone.  And I, from a dumpster.  But thinking deeper, I realized that the conveyed message was: You are not like me and hence you are not my son. Even as a very small kid, that blew.

I cannot recall how exactly my thinking process went.  I suppose my optimism has imbued in me since young.  All of a sudden, I have a mission in life.  I vowed to prove to my mother that I am indeed her son and I am going to make her proud.  What a long journey that became.  Over the years, my mother has subtly taught me that love is a two-way highway.  I too have to reach out to her.

Now that I am older and a little bit wiser, I am more and more convinced that she could well be saying I found you in a dumpster to herself, especially when the going got rough.  A reminder of how close she was to lose me in a hospital when the doctors and nurses informed her that my chance of survival was slim.  And that it turned out to be a blessing for her even if she has to accept me in whatever condition I was, so long as I live.  In another word, I was indeed lost and found, not in the most glamorous way.

I am not as articulated in Spanish.  The Spanish version of the story is as follows.  Thanks to Alejandra who corrected my grammar.  I think the Spanish tenses are intense.

La persona más importante en mi vida es mi madre.  Sin ella, yo no existo.  Sé que parece una tontería.  Cuando era joven, mi madre me decía de dónde venía, sobre todo cuando estaba enfadada conmigo.  Ella me decía que me encontró en el contenedor de la basura.   Cada vez que era travieso, me contaba la misma historia.   En el fondo, sé que ella me ama.  La metáfora de que me encontró en un contenedor de basura puede ser cruda.  Pero es un recuerdo constante del dolor que perdura para hacerme lo que soy hoy.

This entry has prompted me to work on a set of photos taken in my 2009 trip to Hong Kong.  My parents, Cynthia, and I have visited this garden.  If I remember correctly, the fossil stones and trees come from China.  My dad used to visit the garden often and he knows where the good spots are for photo taking.  Unfortunately, my photography skill was inadequate (I just bought my dSLR).  And I wish I had the white balancing card with me.  Nevertheless, for memory’s sake, below is a set of photos of the garden.

And another set for my family.

We Played Scrabble In Spanish ~ Jugamos Scrabble En Español

This is like a dream comes true.  After two years and two months of learning Spanish, we are able to play Scrabble, in a Spanish style.  On the last revision lesson before heading to the next module – Higher Intermediate 1 – our teacher Alejandra asked if the four of us wished to try out Scrabble.  And we said sure thing!  Cynthia and I have tried to play Spanish Scrabble using an English set when we were at Fraser’s Hill earlier on this year.  It did not work.  A correct alphabet set is important.  Perhaps we shall import a Spanish set and make it a habit to play Scrabble with our classmates.

In this particular game, we have formed 46 words with a combined score of 408 (lots of room for improvement!).  Needless to say, due to my not-too-fantastic linguistic ability, I got the lowest score – by a mile.  The other three were doing really well!  Nevertheless, I participated in almost all the rounds, with words that I know.  Just that the words that I know are not too … long.  For my readers who are studying Spanish and for my future reference, here is a list of words we used (some words we have repeated).

  1. Al (=a el) – To The
  2. Ama (de casa) – Housewife
  3. Baños – Bathrooms
  4. Caen (~caer) – They Fall
  5. Cerdo – Pork
  6. Cree (~creer) – He or she believes
  7. De – Of
  8. Del (=de el) – Of the
  9. Di (~dar) – I gave
  10. El – The
  11. En – In
  12. Ex – Ex
  13. Fue (~ir) – He or she went
  14. Gas – Gas
  15. Gasa – Bandage
  16. Ha (~haber) – He or she has
  17. Hice (~hacer) – I did
  18. Iba (~ir) – I or he or she had gone
  19. Ir – To go
  20. La – The
  21. Lee (~leer) – He or she reads
  22. Luna – Moon
  23. Mala – Bad
  24. Mi – My
  25. Muchos – A lot
  26. Ocho – Eight
  27. Ojo – Eye
  28. Oye (~oír) – Hey
  29. Ponga (~poner) – To put (subjective for he or she)
  30. Por – For
  31. (Mira de) Reojo – To look obliquely
  32. Rio – River
  33. Sale (~salir) – He or she left
  34. Sepa (~saber) – To know (subjective for I or he or she)
  35. Sepan (~saber) – To know (subjective for they)
  36. Serán (~ser) – They will be
  37. Si – If
  38. Sierra – Mountain range
  39. Sur – South
  40. Ti – You
  41. Tio – Uncle
  42. Van (~ir) – They go
  43. Vez – Time (as in frequency)
  44. Ya – Already