Thursday, May 5, 2016

Not Yet Speaking Spanish like a Pro?


Little else galls more than to not understand the language of the people of the country in which I live. As such no greater motivation exists and by default no effort can be wasted---no mistake made that can deter---to become a fluent Spanish speaker is fifty percent of the reason I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador.
 
Street scene in Cuenca
 
I had at one time entertained the notion that immersion as methodology for learning a foreign language was--- in and of itself---sufficient to achieve fluency. Not so by a long shot. I met an American ex-pat in Cuenca who has lived here for five years. Although a 50- something, bright, college educated woman, she speaks no more than token Spanish. ¨Gracias¨, ¨hola,¨ and ¨adios¨. Immersion is a big help but it´s not a critical factor.

In addition the aid that immersion offers isn´t activated unless its benefit is utilized. When taking a taxi it does not help to hear the news on the radio but it does help to listen. When watching television, it does no good to filter out Spanish shows and watch only English language programs. It does good to have Ecuadorian acquaintances or friends with whom you can practice speaking Spanish. Immersion is worthless if English only is spoken to fellow ex-pats.

Ex-pats enrolled in Spanish language schools like Yanapuma or Simon Bolivar, or ex-pats who hire tutors---these people demonstrate sincere desire to adjust themselves to the life of Ecuador. It is a credit to them to be doing so, not only because learning a second language entails hard study, but also because it is a sign of respect towards Ecuador.
 
Simon BolĂ­var Spanish language school in Cuenca
 
Be this as it may, the type of Spanish spoken by teachers to educate students is not the same type that is spoken in the shops or on the streets, or in the bars and banks. I tend to understand a great deal of the Spanish spoken to me in the classroom. I tend to understand little of the Spanish spoken to me by the fellow shining my shoes in downtown Cuenca or by the taxi driver taking me to Mall del Rio.

I would argue there are two reasons why this is what it is.

At the school the professors teach at an understandable rate of speed. This is to say their communications are conveyed in a manner slow enough to comprehend. This is not artificial. It´s authentic Spanish elaborated in an educational environment.

The second reason why is that Spanish spoken by Ecuadorians in day to day life is laced with slang that makes no sense to those who are not native to the country. That´s why this book by author Nicholas Crowder, who writes extensively about Ecuador, can help towards a better understanding of Spanish as it´s spoken in ordinary life.