Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Los poemas son importantes ... Here's why.

At any level of language acquisition, reading poetry is beneficial. Few people make a living reading or writing poems these days. So in a world of "Spanish for Business" and "Medical Spanish," why are poems important?

Poetry requires a writer to eliminate words and keep only the bare essentials. Rarely in this life are we presented with a choice that requires us to "forsake all others." Weddings are one time like that. Backpacking trips are another. But usually, at least in 2008 in the USA, we can rent a storage shed, fill a garage, and opt to just keep everything.

Poetry invites us to say goodbye to the unnecessary and keep the essential. In communication, whether in our first, second, or tenth language, each conversation invites us to do the same. What ideas do I wish to convey to my children during this breakfast together? What do I want to say to my husband before I fall asleep tonight? What do my parents need to know next time I talk to them?

Poetry is not simply romantic expression, or the trappings of old-fashioned courtship, or making empty promises that one does not intend to keep. Classics in the poetic tradition lead us to examine who we are, what we believe, what matters to us, whose we are, and what choices we make.

What's your favorite "poema" and who is your favorite "poeta"--and why? Give it some thought and let me know.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why Don Quixote is a great book

Windmills, giants, barbers, innkeepers, knights errant, and libraries might not be your cup of tea. So why is Don Quixote a great book, and why does it make sense for an American to take the trouble to read this great book in Spanish?

Don Quixote asks us to ponder the questions about our humanity. What is the purpose of living? Why are we here? What do we need? What do we believe and why? Whose are we? What is loyalty? Friendship? Love?

Don Quixote is a funny book. Personally, I can't read it in public--I giggle too much. I have gotten some very strange looks while reading DQ on the NYC subway. So I am a closet DQ consumer nowadays.

Many of Cervantes' jokes are language-related, and Spanish allows for such flexibility in the formation of words and subtle changes in meaning through suffixes and slight variations that this book is much funnier in its original language.

You will probably never wake up one morning and say, "hmmm... my Spanish is good enough now, I think I'll read Don Quixote today." It's a two-volume book and it's a daunting feat to read even the first chapter for the first time, as a non-native speaker. So don't think. Just grab a copy, and a good dictionary, and wade through. Take the plunge. You'll giggle and cry your way all the way through, I'll bet, as you consider more deeply what it means to be human.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Conexiones culturales

"Your class is too hard. Some students went to the other section," greeted me today as I took roll for a college-level beginning Spanish class. While I'm not covering as many chapters as another professor, the students have noticed that we are going in-depth. I share what I know with my classes, what I have learned, what I have studied, and waht I have been taught by my professors and by years of experience as a student of Hispanic culture and Spanish language.

The best part about slowing down and going in-depth in every chapter of the text is that we can take time to enjoy the cultural connections with parts of the Latin American and Peninsular world. Music, traditions, dance, fiestas, santos, foods---none of these areas escape our notice when we take time to explore the cultural explanations for "why do you say it like that?"

I am readily accessible by appointment, e-mail, and phone. When students are lost, we work together to get "found" again on the roadmap towards cultural and linguistic fluency. But I always take it as a compliment when someone says the class is "hard." If it were easy for you, then you would have tested into another level! :) If you're not making mistakes, you're not learning much--so hang on for the ride and raise your hand when you're (not) having fun and have a question. Speak up--because when you're lost, guaranteed, someone next to you is, too.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Una manzana al día

In English we say "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Today I did a medical translation. It is a blessing to have access to good medical care. A translator can be nice, too, if the doctor and patient don't speak the same language. How do you keep the translator away? What is the "apple a day" that will help you polish up your Spanish language skills before you embark on a journey where you might have to use your emergency Spanish in a real world context?

Here's Señora Fields' "Apple A Day" technique for learning Spanish effectively. My Ivy Tech classes meet weekly, as do my Spanish Bible Stories students. Practicing every day or even a couple times a day helps Spanish language really begin to "stick" so I give suggestions like:

+ Count in Spanish when you climb stairs
+ Practice Spanish sounds when you ride around on your bike
+ Listen to the radio in Spanish
+ Pick up a Spanish edition of the newspaper
+ Have someone ask you the time in Spanish (¿Qué hora es?) and see if you can answer

Practicing a little every day makes a BIG difference in how quickly you learn.

Keep up the good work!