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

The Story Of A Boatman (La Historia Del Barquero)

This is my latest doodle titled “Boatman And A Girl Together With Other Parties“.  I have not been drawing for quite some time.  Drawing can be therapeutic.  Especially if you have a rough day at work (like mine today).  Each stroke scraps away a little bit of the trouble in your mind.  By the time you are done with your drawing, you would be so detached from the earthy frustration and glad that the time spent not thinking of it has turned into something tangible.  Something that brings a smile to your face.

Some of you may be bored of me going through in detail how I compose my drawings.  If you have been reading on my doodle series, it is the same old symbols and linkages and a picture within a picture.

What inspired this drawing is our recent Spanish class.  We were given a story in Spanish and were tasked to first form our individual opinion and then discussed and debated within the group in order to arrive at a common conclusion.  All in Spanish of course.  What intrigued me, out of this entire exercise, is how differently we think as an individual.  It comes down to our bearings.

The story goes something like this.  A young married girl was neglected by her husband who spent most of his time working.  And she was seduced by another man while her husband was away.  How far did she go?  She had spent a night at her lover’s place on the other side of the river.  In the next morning, she woke up early and planned to reach home before her husband returned from his business trip.  At the bridge, she was hassled by a dangerously looking mad man who refused to let her pass.  Panic, she had decided to take a boat in order to cross the river.  But she had no money with her.  And the boatman refused to take her across if she did not pay in advance.

She then returned to her lover’s home asking for money.  But he refused with no explanation.  As she left her lover’s home, she remembered a bachelor friend of hers living nearby and is in platonic love with her.  When she explained her situation to her friend asking for money and he refused.  Feeling utterly disappointed, the young girl had decided to reason with the mad man.  When she tried to cross the bridge, she was killed by the mad man.

So, in your opinion, of the six characters – the girl, her husband, her lover, the mad man, the boatman, and her friend – who is the most guilty one?  And how would you rank them from the most to the least guilty?

Our class spent much time debating, attempting to arrive at a common ranking order.  It was a fun exercise.  It reminds of one of the law books my sister read.  So full of bizarre scenarios that challenge the readers to decide who the guilty ones are.

For those who are learning Spanish, here is the story in the original text.

Una joven casada, poco atendida por su marido demasiado ocupado en sus negocios, se deja seducir y va a pasar la noche con su amante en una casa situada al otro lado del río.

Para volver a casa al día siguiente, muy temprano, antes de volver su marido que está de viaje, tiene que cruzar un puente, pero un loco haciendo gestos amenazadores le impide el paso.  Corre entonces hacía un hombre que se dedica a pasar gente con su barca.  Se monta, pero el barquero le pide dinero por el viaje.  Ella no tiene dinero y aunque le suplica desesperada, el barquero se niega a pasarla si no le paga por adelantado.

La joven vuelve a casa de su amante y le pide dinero.  Él se niega sin darle explicaciones.

Se acuerda de un amigo soltero que vive en la misma orilla del río y que siempre ha sentido por ella un amor platónico, aunque ella nuca lo ha querido.  La joven le explica su situación y le pide dinero.  Pero su amigo también se niega: se siente totalmente decepcionado.

La chica vuelve a hablar con el loco, pero él no cede y la amenaza otra vez.  Al final la joven decide cruzar el puente.  El loco la mata.

¿Quién es, en tu opinión, más culpable de la muerte de la chica?

Objects In The World Of Spanish, And The Distractions That Entail

Learning a new language makes me feel like a kid once again.  It is long, hard, made of wood, and we use it to write, to sketch, and to paint, what is it?  And my study partner would answer, “Pencil!”, in Spanish.  And it would be my turn to ask, “What is it?”.  “A handkerchief”.  “What is it for?”.  “To wipe nose!”.  So on, and so on.  For the obsessive compulsive me, this exercise is ideal to practice for our upcoming Spanish examination.  Unfortunately Cynthia is far from being an OCD.  And she prefers to watch television instead.

Learning should be fun.  The beauty of a language is not what the words mean but what one can do with them.  To that extend, I love learning expressions.  Every culture has its unique way to express a certain idea.  In English, there is a saying: Every cloud has a silver lining.  I think it is beautiful, though at time of a heavy downpour, I can hardly find any silver lining.  Dark patches all over the sky, that is all I see.  But expressions like this stick to our minds.  In Spanish, the same idea is expressed in a more practical term.  No hay mal que por bien no venga, which roughly translate to good things won’t come when nothing is bad.  Don’t think too hard on the logic involved.  My mind goes into an infinite loop whenever I ponder too hard on the Spanish version of every cloud has a silver lining.

Learning new words, I must say, is hardly possible without dictionaries.  Kids nowadays are so blessed.  The online free ones are even better than some of the paid ones.  By right, I would imagine that with an explosion of readily available online knowledge, kids nowadays should be super kids in no time.  Yes?  One may be awed by the movie Matrix when Neo learns Kung Fu via an instant download from an optical disk.  The 20 years younger version of me back in the nineties would too be awed by the fact that one can learn the overview of Spanish history – or any topic of my choice – with a click of a button at Wikipedia today.  Or to learn how to bake a cake at YouTube.  Perhaps with the explosion of online knowledge comes an explosion of distractions in an equal magnitude.  That may be why our kids are still not the super kids we would have expected.  Or because knowledge is so readily available, we seldom make an effort to memorize.  That would explain why I keep searching the same Spanish word online again and again.  The penalty of not memorizing a word is another click of a button.  Hardly a penalty at all.

Learning objects is more fun that I thought.  Cloth hanger in Spanish is called percha.  Informally speaking, ser una buena percha is an expression that means to have a good figure (for girls).  I suppose if one’s body is good enough to hang clothes, one’s figure must be good?  My favorite one is pañuelo that means handkerchief.  Instead of saying it is a small world, there is a Spanish expression that says the world is a handkerchief (¡el mundo es un pañuelo!).

Learning online could be distracting.  What does a comb use for?  Peinarse.  I looked up the word and was attracted by the poetic usage of the verb comb (peinar).  Las aves peinan las olas depicts the beautiful graphical scene of the birds gently combing through the waves.  And by looking up the meaning of secarse (to dry), I stumbled upon the sentence me sequé las lágrimas (I dried my tears), and was intrigued by the conjugation of the first person past tense of ‘to dry’.  Soon, I am staring at how to express crying one’s heart out in Spanish (llorar a lágrima viva).  I am pretty sure none of these matters for my Spanish examination.  But I think I am too old to study solely for an examination.  Don’t you think?

“When I Was 18” – A Spanish Homework

“When I Was 18” – that was the topic of our Spanish homework.  In fact, our teacher Natalia left the age to be open.  It could well be when I was 16, when I was 24, when I was 30, when I was … OK, let’s stop here.  I mean, when I was 16, my life was not that exciting.  Maybe observing the gorgeous girls going in and out of the nightclub at the ground floor of my apartment in Hong Kong was one of the highlights of my being 16.  What about that romantic relationship with a girl a couple of years younger than me?  OK, that – was complicated.  Really complicated.

18 was – looking back – the turning point of my life.  One of those moments that was tantamount to a multi-facet metamorphosis – physically, mentally, and spiritually.  5,995 miles away from home, I was studying in UK.  The age of experimentation, the age of inquisition, and the age of doing just the opposite for the sake of because-I-can.  Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not.  To experience at all cost.  When you are that young, I guess empathy may not be high in your list.  Neither is self-preservation.  It is a time of having to face the consequences and to bear the scars, a time of learning and moving on.

When I was 18, I was used to walk afar, alone or with my friends.  We would walk miles to another town, to visit the pubs, get chased by the dogs.  A few years later, in another city of the same country, I would walk miles to visit Toy “R” Us, to check out the latest console game titles.  I would spend hours walking, in the cold or in the rain, day or night.  We would climb a crane and stand high up above the ground in order to embrace the chilly wind, feel the thrill down our spines.  One evening, my friends and I ventured into a privately owned woodland.  Occasionally we found shotgun shells on the ground, under a bright moonlight.  Flying creatures would suddenly pop out of nowhere and got us scared.  Or did we scare them with our trespass?  When you are that young, you do not think.  You act with your heart.  At the end of our night trekking, we would see a peaceful lake with swans.  Flying ducks would make a gentle landing onto the surface creating beautiful lines on the otherwise serene pliable gigantic mirror.  In the middle of the lake, there was a castle decorated with modern interior.  How nice if I could live in such a surreal surrounding.  Looking back, I sincerely cannot recall how many times I have visited that lake.  I think about those moments from time to time; I dream about those moments from time to time.  When hallucination mixes with memory and dream, what is real, what is created by my mind consciously and subconsciously?

When I was 18, I seldom slept at night.  My friends would drop by my room to chat, to listen to music, to do homework together, or to play guitar.  My English friends would teach me the culture of tea drinking, the English way.  I would teach them my culture of having toasted bread with butter and sugar.  They were surprised when I sprinkled sugar on top of my buttered toast.  I was surprised when some preferred to drink English tea with only milk and no sugar.  I suppose when you are young, you are eager to try almost anything.  And we would chat the entire night.  Do you remember the days when you and your friends suddenly have this revelation that the world is so screwed up by the grown-ups?  That we have millions and one ways to make this world a better place?  Do you remember the days when you and your friends started to question the core of our existence?  The future of our existence if there is one; the doom of our existence if there are none?  Questions, questions, and questions.  And we debated.  The entire night.

That spirit of being 18, that spirit of endless adventure and no topic is a taboo.  That carelessness, that care free attitude of life.  Young is the one that plunges in the future and never looks back – so said Milan Kundera.

Now, I wish I could write that in Spanish.  The result of my homework is a lot simplified.  I am going to post it here because first it takes great effort to compose anything in Spanish and I may as well post it here for my personal future reference.  And second, it is rare that I could get someone to correct my Spanish writing (thanks Natalia!) so here we go.

Cuando tenía 18 años, era un joven estudiaba que en Inglaterra.  Me gustaba caminar largas distancias, gran altura.  Mis amigos y yo caminábamos por el bosque bajo la luz de la luna.  O entrábamos a otra ciudad a pie.  Cuando veíamos una grúa, la subíamos.  Era peligroso.  Pero era joven, sin pensar mucho.

Cuando tenía 18 años, era un hombre tranquilo.  Me gustaba escuchar música clásica o melodía de ayer todo el tiempo.  Visitaba a menudo la habitación de mi amigo y escuchábamos la música pop.  Otra amigo me introdujo la música rock.  Y tocábamos las guitarras en la noche.

Cuando tenía 18 años, mis amigos y yo hablábamos durante toda la noche.  Hablábamos sobre chicas, sobre extraterrestres y ballenas, sobre política y los problemas de mundo.  Los problemas que pensábamos que podíamos resolver.  ¡Qué ingenuos éramos!

Cuando tenía 18 años, veía la vida como una aventura.  Ahora la veo como la rutina diaria.  Prefiero quedarme en donde estoy.

Ding! Leveled Up On Our Spanish Learning Journey

I guess in life, if things are not hard earned, they are not as rewarding.  Spiritually speaking.  That applies to your recent promotion, you love life, those pineapple tarts that you have spent hours and hours of cooking to find that perfect balance, those regular practice sessions for climbing that one mountain, and etc.  Not to over-dramatize, like I often do, the Spanish examination at Las Lilas is not that tough.  Objectively speaking.  But as always, I hardly see Cynthia doing revision and she gets a score of 96 for the level lower intermediate 2.  I have studied days and nights, in any location you can imagine (except my bathroom !por favor!), even spent much time revising Spanish in our recent trip to Bandung, I am still behind Cynthia’s supreme linguistic ability.  The good news is that the gap is closing!  I have hit a score of 90, the highest I have attained to date.  To be fair, I think our teacher Natalia has been generously lenient when marking my examination paper.  And she is very encouraging too, recognizing the effort I have poured into this new language.

Some ask how many levels are there in my Spanish language course.  I have no clue.  Unlike Cynthia and some of my classmates who are eying at the end level, I am more focus on how far I can go.  And we shall see.

In this new level – intermediate 1 – one lady has left us, three ladies have joined.  Male species remain as the minority in our class.  More so than before.  I am not surprised.

Learning Spanish In Singapore At Las Lilas, Recommended?

One reader wrote in and asked my opinion on learning Spanish as a language and learning Spanish at Las Lilas, the school where we learn Spanish.  Since I do come across questions like these from time to time (like from my friends via Facebook and Messenger), perhaps it is a good idea to share my thoughts here.  And if I write something nice about Las Lilas, they may pass my examination tomorrow, the next one, and the rest after?

I am kidding.

And I will also throw in a few tips that help me a great deal in learning Spanish.

*     *     I – Spanish as a Language     *     *

Spanish is a Romance language with 329 million native speakers (as of 2009), the second most spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese.  As for the most commonly used language on the Internet, Spanish comes after English and Chinese (as of 2007).  But hey, these are just statistics.  You may pick up a new language for your personal reasons.  In my case, the language picked me.  Or rather Cynthia got me into learning a language of her choice.  In return, we have an agreement that she will learn a language of my choice.  That did not happen.  18 months of learning Spanish has sucked all my linguistic juice away.

If you are reading this, I presume, you are an English speaker.  So here are a list of similarities and differences from my observation of the two languages, at a high level, based on what I have learned so far.

  • English and Spanish share a similar set of alphabets.  Spanish has an extended set of characters.
  • You can read a passage in Spanish by observing the alphabets.  And hence, theoretically you could spell out the words based on what you have listened to.  Those who are trained to convert phonetic sound into alphabets (like Cynthia whose mother tongue is Bahasa Indonesia) would have an unfair advantage to those who are not (like me who is brought up with Chinese).  Such is life.
  • Some argue that English grammar is harder.  I think Spanish grammar is not easy either.  Perhaps grammar in general is hard because of the exceptions.  I often ponder: Why these exceptions?  Maybe there is beauty lies within exceptions, or exceptions are what make a language beautiful.
  • In Spanish, you have to remember words in masculine and feminine forms.  That extends to the adjective and more.  For example, a rose is feminine in Spanish, and hence you have to use the red color in feminine form to describe it (roja versus rojo).  And since a sunflower is masculine, the yellow color in masculine form is used instead (amarillo versus amarilla).
  • Spanish verb conjugation, in my opinion, remains as the hardest thing I have seen.  In English, when we talk about exceptions, we probably refer to do-does-did-done versus jump-jumps-jumped-jumped.  In Spanish, each tense has six flavors to cater for I-you-he/she-we-you (plural)-they.  The good news is, there are probably only about 100 variations in total (of all the tenses in six flavors) and once you have learned it, it is yours to keep.  The bad news is: How do you know which verb belongs to which variation (common Spanish verb runs in the order of 10,000)?  And when you listen to a verb in a particular form, how do you reconcile that with its infinitive form?  Lots of practice I suppose.
  • Another good news is, there is quite a fair bit in common between Spanish and English in terms of vocabulary.  Recently, I have browsed a book called The Big Red Book of Spanish Vocabulary.  I can recognize quite a number of them.  All of a sudden, Spanish is not that foreign to me.

*     *     II – Las Lilas     *     *

If you are residing in Singapore, Las Lilas is a school worth considering.  We are told that parents send their children to Las Lilas to study Spanish.  Classes are formed once there are five on board, though for beginner courses, they tend to admit a lot more students to perhaps anticipate for the higher drop out rate.  We have met with three different teachers at least and they are all great teachers who speak Spanish as a native language, well qualified for the job.  How fun learning can be, I reckon, depends on you and your classmates.  We have a lively group and we have known each other for months.  Las Lilas has designed a series of lessons in different levels.  Examination happens in alternate levels.  Personally, I hope to see a clearer written curriculum.  But I guess they have a casual learning philosophy in mind and for working individuals like us, it is just what we need.  Having said that, they host official examination too that is recognized in Spain (and other countries I reckon).

Each level has 10 lessons.  It works out to be about S$40 per lesson before discount (the longer you stay with the school, the more discount you get I think).  Course-ware is largely based on a textbook and an exercise book.  Handouts are given during the class.  And one or two lessons may involve learning through visual materials.

I wish Las Lilas can do more in terms of bringing the student community together.  It is, I believe, the vibrancy of the learning community that keep the Spanish spirit alive in a country whereby hardly anyone speaks Spanish.

To access the school’s website, please click here.

*     *     III – Tips on Learning Spanish     *     *

As a small disclaimer, I am not sure if I at all am qualified to write a section on tips.  Nevertheless, the followings help me in this Spanish learning journey.

  • Bond well with your classmates and your teachers.  It makes the learning journey more rewarding, common sense as it may seem.
  • I use  Collins Concise Spanish Dictionary.  I have done some research before investing close to S$60.  And at Kinokuniya, I browsed dictionaries of different publishers and have finally decided on this.  It comes with an online edition too, free.  The downside of the online edition is its clumsiness that requires repeated log in.  Therefore I hardly use.
  • I also use the mobile edition of the Collins Dictionary (about S$15).  As and when I need to look up a word, all I need to do is to pick up my wireless phone.  I use the mobile edition so much more than the paper edition.
  • I find Langenscheidt’s Pocket Bescherelle Spanish Verbs very useful, as a reference tool.  The conjugation tables contain entries in red that denotes exceptions.  It helps for me to focus on those exceptions and memorize.
  • For online translation, I love SpanishDict.com.  For serious verb conjugation, it is Verbix.com hands down.
  • To read everyday Spanish and to watch Spanish video clips, our teacher has recommended Radio Televisión Española.
  • My favorite Spanish podcast?  That has to be Coffee Break Spanish.
  • If you listen to Internet Radio like I do, don’t miss Europa FM.
  • I have bought a few Spanish books too.  But I have yet to read them.  Some enjoy reading the Bible in both Spanish and English side-by-side with one another.  I intend to get Spanish-English Bilingual Catholic Bible.  Well, if I am going to read some literature again and again in Spanish, I may as well clock in some points to Heaven, no?

This list will grow, for sure.  But for now, that is all I have got to share.  Thanks for reading and feel free to drop in comments if you have more queries, or have something, anything to share.