14 September 2013

Learn English to learn Spanish (and probably most other languages)

I am in Cusco to learn a little Spanish, as I am going to be spending 3 months in Spanish speaking countries and I *need* to have some Spanish in order to survive and to just get more from my time here.

I am using FairPlay as the school, based on a recommendation from Gil. 

I'm 7 lessons in and I'm happy with my choice, even if each lesson makes me feel like I've been hit by a (Spanish speaking) truck. 4 hours of communicating totally in Spanish, doing a mixture of classroom based learning and practical lessons around Cusco. It is intense, immersive and whilst it makes me feel like I know nothing, it is actually working. I think.

It is, however, massively frustrating at times, as what would be a simple question to ask and answer in English becomes 10 minutes of pigeon Spanish and sign language in order to try and understand what my tutor, who doesn't speak English, is trying to teach me.

This is my first attempt at learning a language since I left school, where I spent 5 years attempting to get some French in to my head, with limited success based on my grade and generally poor foreign language skills. Wind forward mumble years and it is time for another go, although with a different language.
(I did 1 year's of French and Spanish at school, but that really didn't work out for me - they are too close to each other for the 13 year old me to not get the too languages confused. The thirtymumble year old me still gets the two mixed at times too.)

One of the things which was clear to me by lessons 2 (when I started to draft this post) is that having a solid understanding of English grammar will make things a lot easier when learning the grammar of another language. I, and I suspect a lot of others, don't ever think about the structure and tenses in our conversations - we just know it, having grown up with it and with varying amounts of formal education on the topic, although I have no recollection of being taught grammar at school. When you start to learn a new language all that is taken away from you, or at least from me. 

One of the things I've struggled withdraw is that in Spanish, as with French, the determinate and indeterminate article changes based on the gender (something I struggled to get my head around in French) and number of the objects (1 or many) and it makes for some (read: lots) head scratching. Mostly it is knowing the gender of the object, as singular vs. plural is easy. 

Gender of objects.... I have a gender. You have a gender. There is a whole spectrum of gender. All of which is assigned to living things, specifically humans. (I'm going to ignore sex vs. gender for other animals.)
Saying that a coconut is masculine (in Spanish, at least) and that a university is feminine makes absolutely no sense what so ever. That water (agua) is masculine in the singular but feminine in the plural (aguas) makes even less sense. If anyone can actually explain why some languages have this I'd love to know.

If I were staying longer at the school to do (more of) the complete course, something I've toyed with, then I'd have to start dealing with past perfect and the such like - but I'm just going to do my 2 weeks at the school and then start exploring Peru and actually trying to use and live off the Spanish I've learned and what I'll continue to learn as I go. 

If I did doing more of the course I'd have to give myself a crash course in English grammar, if only so that when things like past perfect are referenced I know what it is English and so can do something with it in Spanish. As is, I'll probably have to do that when I get home as I'd like to carry on learning Spanish.