Saturday, October 10, 2009

What's in a word?

I've gone through some interesting stages in my Spanish while being here. At first, every time I tried to speak, I knew it wasn't supposed to be English, but the only words that would come to my head were German due to 2 years of learning that language in high school. That soon gave way to spitting out Spanish words, but mixing up meanings as I tried to translate in my head. Several times I told people I was "married" instead of telling them I was "tired", just the other night while talking to my brother I told him my class "owned" something instead of saying it was "new", and my favorite: as my family was heading out to eat one night I kept telling my dad, "Do I need money for pizza? I need money, right?" I couldn't understand why he was giving me strange looks until he pulled some money out of his pocket and offered it to me...I had mixed up words and been telling him, "Do I want money for pizza? I want money!"
As time has passed, I've learned more grammar and more vocabulary, and it's becoming much more natural for the right Spanish words to come out of my mouth when I talk to my family. I still realize that I go to bed every night with an exhausted brain - one day I decided to really explore why I got so tired every day, even while simply listening to a sermon in church...every word that I hear throughout the day, has to go through a process:
1) Recognize that I have heard a word
2) Is this word included in the vocabulary I've memorized?
3) either - No, in which case I move on to the next word I heard...OR
Yes, well, what does it mean?
4) Is it a verb? noun? adjective? something else?
5) What meaning does the ending add to this word?
6) Got it! Next!
Unfortunately, I've realized that while going through this process, I miss the next 5 words that come after the one I now understand, thus making it difficult to understand a complete sentence and grasp the full picture of what someone is saying.
Thankfully, as with anything, when you are immersed long enough somewhere, things that seemed so new now become automatic. After 5 weeks of living in the Dominican Republic and taking Spanish classes every day, many words no longer have English translations in my head, they simply mean what they mean in Spanish. Instead of listening to an advertiser drive by in a car and hearing rolled 'r's and strange lilts in the voice, I now hear that they are selling platanos, or that there is a concert at 7 o'clock on Saturday night.
I always knew that I struggled to learn thing in a classroom setting. I think almost everyone else on my team here would agree - this is the way to learn a language!

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