Tuesday, August 12, 2008

shower spanish

Because AK and I are going to Oaxaca in less than two weeks (Oaxaca—yay!; less than two weeks—better figure out the cat sitter situation!), I am trying to give myself a crash course in Spanish.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the motivating factor of knowing that I won’t know where the bathroom is or how much things cost unless I complete my Ultimate Spanish CDs because our friend Pedro, who’s going with us, is fluent.

(Conversation with my dad:

DAD: Can’t AK help you with your Spanish?

ME: Well, I guess we could help each other. Her Spanish is a little better than mine. But we like to talk about things that are more complex than how the weather is, or what color our clothes are.

DAD: But wait, isn’t she, um, Spanish?

ME: If by “Spanish” you mean Mexican, yes. But her parents were born here and always spoke English to her. So she took Spanish in school just like me.

DAD: [As if AK’s ethnic background, Orange County childhood, and the fact that not all Mexican Americans speak Spanish are all totally new information] Huh.)

I took Spanish in school for six and a half years, but it didn’t accomplish what three weeks abroad would have. And despite the fact that 12.4 million people in L.A. speak Spanish (according to one random internet source), only three of them could be found in any of my various Spanish classes at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. These included:

  • The teacher, who was always either a college Spanish major who’d studied abroad or Mr. Hernandez, who’d taught for 35 years and was so burnt out that he mostly just had us draw pictures, an activity that is not only not Spanish, but not even lingual.
  • Giovanni Untiveros, who was a native speaker.
  • Megan Lengel-Zigich, who practiced with her housekeeper and was kind of a show-off.

So I didn’t exactly emerge fluent, you know? In the same way that some people are good singers in the shower, I think I’m a good Spanish speaker in my car. My pronunciation doesn’t totally suck, and I can get the gist of your average article in La Opinión. But put me in a Spanish-language situation in the real world, and I’m like one of those people in the first round of American Idol auditions who’s shocked to discover what she sounds like without the benefit of tile acoustics. Or, no, I guess I’m more like a contestant who opens her mouth and is shocked to discover that nothing at all comes out, and then runs off stage in embarrassment.

Ultimate Spanish, despite its exciting-sounding title, is a little boring because the sample conversations are bland and benign.

JUAN CARLOS: Hello, Marta. Would you like to see a movie with me at 9 p.m. tonight?

MARTA: No, I am sorry, Juan Carlos, but I am feeling sick.

JUAN CARLOS: Does your stomach hurt?


JUAN CARLOS: Does your head hurt?


JUAN CARLOS: Does your elbow hurt?

MARTA: No, it is not serious. I am tired from exercising. I need to rest.

JUAN CARLOS: That is good. It is important to exercise and rest.

I know what you’re thinking—that there’s some interesting subtext here involving Marta’s refusal of Juan Carlos. Is she giving him the brush-off? But something about the tone of their voices leads me to believe that their relationship is strictly platonic. Also, if Marta was trying to get Juan Carlos to leave her alone, it seems like she would just say, “Um, yeah, it’s my stomach. I have a terrible flu. Have fun, though.”

In the world of Ultimate Spanish, no one gets sick in a serious way. When people talk about their jobs, they might have to work hard, but their bosses are always nice and they’re compensated fairly. When they go into clothing stores, they always readily find a blue tie for their uncle and a red skirt for their niece at a reasonable price.

Although it would be interesting to hear all hell break loose—which could introduce all kinds of new vocabulary—I guess I’ll need to look to telenovelas for that.

We watched a little bit of one with our upstairs neighbor, Alyssa, last week. Alyssa tried to catch us up on what was going on (“They both dated the same guy, but now he’s in a coma and they just discovered he’s really married to this other woman and now they’re teaming up to get revenge”), but AK and I kept whispering comments to each other along the lines of, “I just caught the word ‘man’” and, “That lady said something about being in pain, or she said how much something costs.”

Mi vacación será muy interesante, pero espero que no es muy interesante.*

*I’m pretty sure I needed to use the subjunctive in there somewhere.


Laura and the family said...

Maybe if I share with you would make you feel less ease when you visit Oaxaca.. My mom's father, whose first language was Spanish, spoke both English and Spanish because of his mother only spoke English upon to her death. (Will explain a little more after this)

My mother practiced her Portuguese and Spanish skills through by listening both Spanish Audio while driving and listening to Spanish shows, even took Spanish classes just like you. She was pretty good at speaking Spanish like you.

Well, my mom, her siblings and her parents went to Mexico to celebrate my grandparents' 50th anniversary. While celebrating their anniversary, my grandfather, who had not practiced speaking Spanish more than 35 years after his mother death, still remember and understand the Spanish conversation while listening to the humor Spanish speaking commercial. He was able to translate into English to his wife and his children. It does not matter how long ago you have not used other language; you can understand mostly what is the conversation was being said.

As for my mother, she was able to carry basic Spanish conversation while in Mexico after she had listened several Spanish T.V shows and audio tapes.

What I am saying is that put your ease down, and learn more when you are there. Also, HAVE FUN exploring another part of the world.

Laura and the family said...

Pardon me.. I meant his mother only spoke SPANISH- not English.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for the story! I have heard that a lot comes back to you--of course, my skills were never all that in the first place. But yeah, I do plan to practice the universal language of relaxation while I'm there.

Peter Varvel said...

Ha ha, I also had six years of Spanish, from eighth grade to freshman year in college.
I learned much more from years waiting tables in L.A.
"Mantenga sus piernas cerradas por favor." (ya never know when that's going to come in handy . . .)
While in Acapulco, a friend asked me to help her buy birth control at Walmart, limited as my Spanish was/is.
"Hablas Ingles?" I asked the girl behind the pharmacy counter (sorry - don't know how to get the accents and upside down question mark on this laptop).
She shook her head.
I pointed to my friend and gave it my best shot.
"Ella necesita el medicino para no los ninos." ('enyay?' 'tilde?')
The salesgirl laughed but she brought out three choices and my friend did not end up pregnant after her husband flew in to Acapulco for a visit.
I have since learned the word 'anticonceptivos.'

Unknown said...

you're right: "espero que no SEA muy interesante". you're spanish is good! we can practice before you guys leave, though. i bet i have some good books for conversational spanish.

Cheryl said...

PV: Good to know! Last night AK recounted a conversation she had with a woman at an L.A. restaurant one Sunday morning. She explained to the woman, "Bebi muchos bebidos, y ahora me duele la cabeza." The woman told her the word for "hangover," but then she forgot it again.

V: Gracias!

Jesi said...

all you need to know are these two:

callate pinche cabron!

quiero corjerte como un animal!

ok, maybe not that last one.

also i heard you should say que onda instead of como estas? but according to my spanish speaking student, it doesn't matter. "they will still make fun of you." her quote. i guess you can't break the barrier, we're still just a bunch of gueros. or worse gringos.

Jesi said...

and this comes in handy, como se dice ________ en espanol?

Jesi said...

also habla mas despacio, which is speak more slowly.

Anonymous said...

How do you say "platypus" in Spanish, because OMG OMG OMG - have you seen this photo?

Unknown said...

you have to delete my comment; i correct your spanish and immediately make an error in english. i was gonna say, 'you're a good spanish-speaker' and i changed it to, 'your spanish is good' but i must've changed my mind half-way through :P

CC said...

Jesi: Yes, they will definitely make fun of me either way. Soy una hopeless guera.

Jenny: OMG...despite my research, I had no idea that platypi were made of VELVET and fit in your hand.

V: At least you have the excuse of being an engineering student. I was an English major and didn't even catch the grammatical error. I was too busy being excited that someone called my Spanish good.

Cheryl said...

D'oh. I just did it again. I'm always using AK's computer, and then she's already signed in to Gmail, and suddenly I'm posting as her. Maybe I'll start a blog for her, what do you think? It will be called, "My Guera Girlfriend is Nevertheless Awesome in Every Way.blogspot.com"

Jesi said...

my spanish speaking student is from tijuana. so she should know.