Saturday, 7 August 2010


With a mixture of caution and elation, I announce, that if all goes according to plan and no disasters occur, I will actually go on a group trip to Spain. The money has been paid, and the travel insurance taken out. Today I went to the first of three intensive Spanish classes.

Several years ago I went to a series of Spanish classes, but stopped when there was no class at my level available at a convenient time. Naturally I have forgotten most of what I had learned. We never did advance beyond the present tense, although we seemed to spend a lot of time on irregular and orthographically changing verbs, as well as the usage of the two forms of the verb to be. I hope that in the next few weeks I can learn quite a lot more. Italian is a great help and it is possible to guess with more than a sporting chance of being right.

There are nine of us in the class, and guess who was the oldest? We are a mixed lot, and two of the women are mother and daughter, intending to travel together in a few weeks. There is a girl with a Columbian boyfriend, and another young couple - he a naturalised American and she Australian, both very keen on Mexico. Another young man turned up late, wearing short shorts and T-shirt. It was a very cold day, and in the morning we had no heating, so we all froze.

To me learning a language is endlessly interesting, and we students, in both my Italian classes, frequently discuss word derivations, usage, and history. What struck me today was how little grammar was understood by many of the students. Concepts such as the conjugation of verbs, classes of verbs, irregular verbs, parts of speech, nouns, prepositions, the use of gender cases in nouns and adjectives, the concept of the infinitive form of the verb, and the definite and indefinite articles were evidently unknown or unfamiliar to many. It makes me wonder just how our language is being taught. Is this why we hear so frequently things like 'Me and him went to the football game'  or 'Joe gave it to her and I'? Or is it yet another aspect of American usage being adopted here? I noticed such usage in Anne Tyler's books, and in a relatively new Australian novel - not as part of the dialogue, but as part of the narrative.

Discovering the different ways in which another language is used is a challenge. Not saying, for example, 'I like dancing', but instead 'dancing is pleasing to me'. I always have to think this construction through and as often as not I get it wrong, even after all these years. Most of us still struggle with the use of the subjunctive tenses. May it come more easily in the future.  The teacher, Ana, is necessarily doing a lot of grammar. The teacher in my previous classes used what was termed the immersion method, to make the students come to grips with the language straight away, but also partly because so few people had a knowledge of grammar. You were expected to plunge in, to speak and write. That method has many advantages, but I needed more verbs, and more than the present tense.

I rang to enquire about the old computer. Obviously it had not yet been given any attention. They phoned the next day to say the logic board had gone bung. Whatever that means, but it sounded ominous. I decided to get it fixed, at what seems hideous expense, as I simply cannot face even trying the cheaper and simpler solutions.

As I typed away yesterday, I suddenly noticed that the T key was not working. The top of the key has come loose. Amazing - it is only a month old. More dealing with computer support people! Of course it is under warranty, and I expect it will be replaced. Nevertheless I feel aggrieved.  I have switched over to the old one.

All of this reminds me that this week there were two obituaries in the Sydney Morning Herald which could have done with better proof-reading - ie by a person rather than by a spell-checker. One referred to someone as saying something 'self-deferentially' instead of 'self-deprecatingly' and the other, about a man who escaped from Nazi Germany a said he was 'interred' in May 1940, firstly at a racecourse and then on the Isle of Man, before being sent to Australia on the Dunera. Once the ship had arrived in Australia, its passengers were  interned.


molly said...

When we lived in Germany we went to night classes to learn to speak German. They taught us with the immersion method, mainly because that was simplest, with people in the class speaking widely differing languages themselves. But you are right. It has its advantages, but I always felt I was missing out on building the basics, for which you need a thorough understanding of grammar. Nothing daunted, when we moved to Belgium, I regularly sallied forth on Saturdays to the local markets and spoke "in tongues" [OC-ese for the gibberish I babbled to the vegetable, flower and waffle vendors!] It was my own personal blend of Flemish, French, English and German, and while it may have been an abomination to cultured ears, I usually went home with arm loads of what I went there to get!!

Anonymous said...

Spain! That's 2 blog posts today that have sent me slight green tinges of envy. I MUST get a life. Spain!

Meggie said...

Oh what a wonderful opportunity. The music alone is enough to entice me.
I seem to be totally bereft of any ability to learn another language. My eldest son, who travelled a lot, was very adept, and loved to learn new language, 'on the hoof' so to say.