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Unos pensamientos en aprender los idiomas

 

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Old May 07, 2008, 01:39 AM
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Join Date: May 2008
Location: Carolina del Norte, EEUU
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Unos pensamientos en aprender los idiomas

This is an area I'm becoming something of an expert in. Though I learned the basics of Spanish through an intensive college course (5-6 hrs/day for 2 mos.), I've been self-educating ever since and now I'm to the point where only rapidly spoken, highly dialectical Spanish is lost on me. Also, my French is fairly strong through pure self-education, I can pick my way through a German novel or a simple Russian article, and I'm 7 out of 30 chapters through an online course in Mandarin Chinese. So let me mind-vomit everything I can on the matter right here and now.

First off, get into Spanish music. I don't think there is a language spoken that has more to offer musically than Spanish, and this coming from a rabid collector of music in all genres in six languages for some six or seven years now (including ranchero/norteño, zydeco, chanson, Russian chanson, bossa nova, rock en español, et. al). Argentines have been rockin' since the sixties. Mexicans can rap with the best of 'em. Spaniards are fantastic at blending flamenco and rumba with rock. And Café Tacuba (Mexico) proves that true musicians know no barriers. They blend punk, norteño, salsa, synth-pop, you name it. If you like rock, talk to me. I'm a walking catalog of rock in Spanish. I'm familiar with hundreds of groups. The idea of course is not that you're going to understand every word or even a small fraction at first. But with regular listening, you'll start picking things out. You might hear the word "historia" a lot, so you'll look that up. Story or history. Okay, that's one. Put that on a flashcard but don't exhaustively pour over it. That's a waste of time, and you'll get burned out. Just look at it once when you get up, and once when you go to bed. Repeat that for a few days and, along with the occasions when you overhear it in song--and you certainly will--very soon you'll have reviewed it seven times on separate occasions, which is the key, many experts believe, to memorization. Then you'll catch "nosotros." Okay, that's we. Then "tiempo." Time. Pretty soon it's several words together . . . "La misma historia" . . . the same story . . . "No vale la pena" . . . it's not worth it . . . Then bam! Suddenly your catching whole phrases all over the place! And don't just make flashcards of infinitives in the case of verbs. It's great to know what "poner," to put, means when you hear it, but that probably won't help you catch "puso," he put, or "puesto," the past participle--two very common forms of the same verb. Make flashcards of basic phrases like "you leave" and "without you" ("te vas" and "sin ti"). Likewise, connection words are important: "antes," before; "después," after; "entonces," then; and "porque," because. Although I'm happy to now know how to say stapler and machine gun, I don't think I've ever heard them in a song. Likewise, though my Spanish course thought it vitally important that I quickly learn how to say "plumber" and "air conditioning," I don't know if I've ever said either in a conversation, nor heard either one in a song. Yet "corazón," heart, "lágrimas," tears, "sentimientos," feelings, "miedo," fear, "ojos," eyes, "ausencia," absence, "amor," love . . . and so on, these sticky types of words make up ninety percent of popular music. If you know enough of them and a few verbs like "necesitar," need, "querer," want, "perder," lose, "amar," love, etc. you can probably understand a good chunk of any bubblegum pop song in short order. And this is a method through which you'll find yourself reviewing certain important words and grammatical constructions over and over. And without even really trying. I don't mean to knock the methods textbooks would prescribe, but they don't make a language accessible very quickly. I'd like to think my method does. It's extremely rewarding to start picking out words in the music you already very much like. At least I find it so.

Second, use the greatest educational gift Man ever bestowed upon himself. Surf the net. This site is absolutely phenomenal for one. Also, Alta Vista Babblefish is a great free translator in a multitude of languages. It might not translate everything perfectly, or even understandably, but it can help you pick through a lot if you feed it small chunks and you have a novice's idea of how a language works grammatically. iTunes has gobs of free podcasts to help you learn. There's an amazing program called Babylon that you can try free for a few weeks. Just look around. Simply by putting, in quotes, five or six words in sequence from just about any popular song, you can find a link to the lyrics of that song using Yahoo's or Google's search engine. And if you're writing in your journal (something you should get in the habit of) and you want to test a phrase to see if it works in Spanish, type it in quotes in a browser and hit enter. If you get a slew of results from a heap of sites, then you've obviously hit upon the way that a native speaker would say something. If you only get a few, then your're either using too elaborate of a phrase to test (a bad idea early on) or (check the addresses) you're unsuccessfully trying to port over from English the same phrase that some other native English speaker has ported over for his online journal. Nice try, but no cigar. I'll give you an example: take the phrase "take the opportunity." Word for word, that would translate into Spanish as "tomar la oportunidad." Put that in a browser in quotes and see what pops up. I just tried it and I got two results, one from a site largely in English and the other from a German site. Obviously that's not how you say it. Now put a spin on it. How else could you say the same thing? How about "use the opportunity," "utilizar la oportunidad." Try that. Naggghhh. Absolutely no results. So that won't work either. Spin it again. How about "use the ocassion," "utilizar la ocasión." Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding! Three hundred and fifty-four results! Obviously we're onto something. And now, not only do we know the phrase works, but we can scroll through 354 examples of its usage in context and probably find something really close to what we're trying to say. I should warn you here that the peril of this method is that you'll turn a phrase that is colloquially acceptable, acceptable in the vernacular, but not textbook Spanish. That's where your own judgement and other educational tools come into play of course. And to a certain degree, one can discern the formality of a phrase from the type of site where it's used, encyclopedia vs. porn blog, if you'll pardon.

This gets to a third point I'd like to make. Make sure you're not teaching yourself junk. A real problem I've had in Spanish is that my professors let me get comfortable using junk phrases like the one I discussed in the above paragraph. As was gone over quite recently on this site, native English speakers often overuse the passive voice in Spanish, where it is used far less often. I did that. And because my teachers didn't want to tell me not to do something for fear that I would lose heart, I developed a whole mess of similar bad habits. For years I said things in a barely intelligible and blatantly incorrect manner because I'd gotten in the habit of porting over phrases word for word from English. As I clearly demonstrated above, that doesn't cut the mustard. Memorize authentic phrases from trusted sources. Don't invent your own gobbely-gook language like I did. It's very hard to correct. Every time I want to say "I don't believe so" in Spanish, I'm still tempted to this day to say "no lo creo" which is proper Spanish, but not at all the thing I'm trying to say. But I got in the habit of saying that because nobody corrected me and it was a HARD habit to break! What one should say (and I do now) is "yo creo que no," which translates most closely as "I believe not."

Cont . . .

Last edited by gatitoverde; May 10, 2008 at 01:37 AM.
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