¿Dijiste Qué?

6:05 AM

All Hillsdale students seeking a B.A. must complete 12 credit hours in a foreign language -- French, German, Spanish, Latin or Greek. (Consider yourself lucky -- I refrained from a tacky "it's Greek to me" joke.) My little education in etymology ruined all hopes of studying the classical languages, for I'm sure I learned that dentis is Latin when it's probably Greek and no college course will ever untangle that confusion. German, well, German's German. Living among German descendants with unpronounceable names which, especially when spoken with a northern accent, break every rule of phonetics has killed any interest in that. There's always French, of course, but I do not think I could ever respect a language that sticks close to fries, toast and manicures.

So that leaves Spanish -- a good thing, too, since I have modest linguistic abilities due to my homeschooling mother's sincerest efforts. Spanish it is. Speaking of requirements, all incoming freshmen must take an online language placement exam in their language of choice. I took mine today.

Hilarity ensued.

I could talk to a two-year-old in Spanish, a great fragmented discussion on perritos, leche and el color azul. Oh, and if the two-year-old sang the days and months of the year, by all means, I could belt it out with her. Otherwise my conversational Spanish is nonexistent, so I had no idea what to say to my imaginary friend in the Student Union who asked me something -- or was I supposed to ask? All right, back up: I had no idea how to answer basic questions. Back up further: I had no idea what the basic questions were. I can't read Spanish sentences -- nothing beyond El gato es negro. The two-year-old and I would have great fun with Dick and Jane...except I'm not sure how to conjugate the verbs in See Spot run.

After guessing on the verb forms and skipping the creative writing section (we will never know what I should have said to my friend in the Student Union), I about died at the two big blocks of very confusing, very Spanish narrative. This much I understood: His name was Luis. He was in jail. I don't know why. He was going to die. There was this captain dude (I think I made that up), there was a priest, and there was an urchin who, if I read it right, had many curious boys -- which doesn't make any sense at all, but Hillsdale's Spanish department might be pulling my leg. Oh, don't be impressed at my ability to translate the word urchin from Spanish. It was listed in the vocabulary. 

In any case, I closed my eyes and pressed random buttons until "Save and Submit" came into view. I'm definitely taking Spanish 101 this fall.

Which is sad, considering how much I should have learned in the past twelve years. You graduates and wiser students understand the pain once you realize that the things you threw tantrums over at age 7 really did make a difference come high school and college. 

I started my Spanish education informally, my mom being from Texas and all, and learned grammatically-illiterate commands and basic vocabulary. We sang the songs from the Family Circus video -- Me gusta la playa! Dulces de chocolate! Me gusta comprar con mama y papa! Volar! Then I sat through tortuous hours of this "see and hear" program for elementary students. You looked at a cartoon (I only remember el hombre gordo) while listening to the Spanish speaker. Brilliant idea -- except sometimes we could understand neither the picture nor the speaker. I could only quote Los bomberos vienen by heart.

The program was, of course, guaranteed to turn us into fluent speakers by Friday, but due to ignorance (and probably a good many tantrums), we quit. I could probably prove any 100% guarantee on a language program as a 100% failure. I think I was born with a Spanish language immunity.

Then came Rosetta Stone. You, homeschooler -- I saw you shudder. Am I the only one who took three hours to learn Spanish directions in that last lesson? To this day, I only remember izquierda and derecha, and the reason I can distinguish between the two is because izquierda sounds weirdly wrong which is the opposite of right which is the opposite of left. I remember derecha means right only because I remember what izquierda means. 

Quickly you're seeing why I failed Spanish.

The rest of my Spanish education was a combination of reading the backs of ketchup bottles and taking a community education class. We got candy and learned Spanish commands. (Weirdly, I still have the candy but not the knowledge.)

Need I say it? Spanish will not be my strong point this fall. I'll say it in Spanish too: Español no va a ser mi punto fuerte de este otoño. Thank God for Google Translate!

What are your fond language memories?

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29 impressions

  1. This post cracked me up. :) It amazes me how some people can pick up languages so well!

    I took Spanish in my last year of public school (8th grade) and then stumbled through what was supposedly Spanish 2 on the computer in my first year of homeschooling.

    I can't speak a full sentence in the language and only remember random words. I remember enough to pick out a few words on the Spanish side of instructions and to read a bit of my sponsored child's letter from Bolivia. Thank goodness they translate or the only thing I would know about her is that she has a mom, a dad, and brothers, and that she likes cats. :)

    Looking back, I sort of wish I had taken French. Just because I'm a bit obsessed with Europe.


  2. Bailey, you are so funny. You can sound extremely intelligent while describing how you failed a class. Amazing.

    I hope to learn some Spanish in the next year or two as well - it's as cool language, I think. So maybe next year we can both laugh at your post with a Spanish accent. If that's even possible.

  3. I did Rosetta Stone. I love Rosetta Stone. But my college of choice does not accept that program as a high school course. So I am prepared for college classes concerning things I already know. I know the language up to level 2, but I am very slow at it. I can't think in French very quickly. But the experience will be beneficial, because my ultimate goal {as of today} is to teach French literature. But I still had to pick the school that was in California, thus very concerned with diversity and languages and stuff.

    I also can pick my way around in Spanish--instant immersion computer games in elementary school, you know. I can read it out loud like a native, but I don't know what I'm saying. Languages are sort of my thing. But not really. I just like 'em.

  4. "To this day, I only remember izquierda and derecha, and the reason I can distinguish between the two is because izquierda sounds weirdly wrong which is the opposite of right which is the opposite of left. I remember derecha means right only because I remember what izquierda means."

    I was snorting in a very undignified manner while reading this post. Hilarious!

    I'm taking Spanish for high school and I'm doing pretty well at it. Yeah, I can't hold a conversation yet, but my pronunciation is pretty good. Gotta love learning your Spanish from a lady who is actually from the Dominican Republic.

    Ooo, they have Spanish on the backs of ketchup bottles? I need to look for that. I love Spanish, so I have this weird compulsion to read it out loud every time I see it somewhere. I love stores where they have everything in English and Spanish on their signs. They're the best.

  5. My dear girl, from where I sit, Spanish is a walk in the park. Want to swap? I've got my Mandarin Chinese textbooks, workbooks, and fluency-enhancing interactive CD-ROMs right here-- they're just a little dusty.

    Foreign language is hands-down my least favorite subject. Unlike others, you can't skim the textbook for understanding-- it's just memorization, repetition, and more memorization. (Not to mention the difficulties of skimming anything written in characters rather than the infinitely more sensible alphabet.)

    With Chinese, you add the puzzling element of tone to the mix. The exact same word means two or three or four different things, depending on the tone of your voice. Which is how I tried to say "I am a student" but somehow came out with "I am a pair of shoes."

    Battle through, Bailey. It could be worse ;o)

  6. I literally "laughed out loud" at this post. You have made my day, Bailey dear. :P

    Okay, so, when I was still a victim of public school systems (joking...slightly) as a 6-and-7-year old, I went to this really nice elementary school. Since they had so much funds, they had a Spanish class. They did a pretty good job - I learned how to count to fifty, sing my ABC's, name all the "members" of a family (mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandma, ect.), and all in Spanish of course.

    Now, I barely remember it today, of course.

    As a high schooled homeschooler, I've had these dreams of being amazingly fluent in Spanish by the time I was graduated. I quickly realized, *gasp*, you actually have to sit down and apply yourself. Hours of indirect Dora exposure from having little sisters and the ten minutes I did reviewing Spanish vocabularly wasn't gonna cut it. I lost all my excitement after that. :P

  7. I took Korean for three years (every Saturday), a long time ago. Unfortunately, I was the only non-Korean in the WHOLE SCHOOL. Needless to say, while all the other kids had parents speaking Korean to them throughout the week, there I was, stuck with decidedly English speaking parents. What was a student to do? Rosetta Stone, of course! The first few lessons were easy: cat, dog, man, woman, girl, boy, etc. However, a picture isn't all that helpful for learning some things, and pretty soon I was all tangled up into a knot, frustrated and in tears. I could say Korean words, but I didn't know what most of them meant. Now the only Korean I can remember is a fragment of a song about butterflies.
    Those are my fond memories :D
    (Oh, and at Korean school we ate sushi once. And I liked it. I haven't had it since, but I really want to try it again :D )

  8. If you have trouble with Spanish, the best way to conquer it is by listening to music you love en espanol and translating the lyrics. You get a better feel for the form of the sentence and in a more organic way than via Rosetta Stone or most college classrooms.

    Or, if music isn't your thing, you could try picking up a side-by-side translation of Jorges Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Federico Garcia Lorca, or Pablo Neruda. Or a bilingual Bible. The key is to make the language come alive by combining it with something you already love. For example, I married my husband, who is a native Ecuadorian and BOOM suddenly my interest in Spanish soared! Hahaha

    The best help for learning conversational spanish that I have found (beyond immersion in a Spanish-speaking country) is the Pimsleur approach. It's completely audio, which is significantly less intimidating for me. :)

    Good luck!

  9. Rosetta Stone. I remember that program with contempt. We didn't get too far in it when my mom decided learning Spanish with it was a fruitless effort, like disciplining a Bedlington terrier.

    So now we're learning Latin.

  10. I'm loving all these comments! You guys are cracking me up. We're all in good company, apparently, except for a couple insanely smart people. ;)

    Elizabeth -- oh! That's a great idea! I love singing in different languages, and side-by-side comparison was always much more fun than memorizing verb tenses.....

  11. If they weren't so lengthy in describing on to get to the gas station (what do you know, the road is closed!), I might've enjoyed Spanish a wee bit more.

    But I do know how to say hello and yes! And I can somewhat bumble around with the Spanish mothers trying to tell me that they're going on a walk. I furiously nod my head (look intelligent) and say, "Oh, si, si!"

    *face palm*

  12. I can completely identify! I have made it through the first semester of Spanish One in two different curriculum's and two years later, I can't remember a thing!!! :)

  13. As a future Spanish teacher, I have an affinity for the language of Inigo Montoya and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Obviously you already know my love for the Spanish language as I'm one of the people you went to for help during your community class. I suppose I could tell you the other languages I want to learn then: Gaelic (all 6), Thai, Mandarin, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, etc.

    I don't know how many I will successfully learn but I'm hoping for all of them.

  14. LOL...Try learning some basic Latin vocab.;P conjugations kill you.

    Actually it helped me remember Spanish for right because in Latin right is 'dexter' so I just had to pick the one with de- at the beginning.

  15. I'm not the only one who feels like a homeschooling failure? That's awesome.

    Um, I mean, I'm so sorry about your language troubles. I can sympathize.

    Although I have to say, when the only Spanish 1 my high school curriculum offered turned out to be a program intended for adults living in Spanish-speaking countries, Rosetta Stone was my only savior and hope of redemption. If it didn't cost so much, I'd buy the software. (The year I did Spanish 1, my curriculum provider offered a special online discount for the newish virtual program, but of course it expires after a school year.)

  16. ah,Languages. I'm learning french right now...slowly,but surely.
    I've always wanted to learn German since that is my ancestory. =) Did you know that your last name is German for 'coal' or is it 'coal miner' I can't remember.

    p.s. I know your last name cause both of our little sisters are penpals,in case you were wondering. :)

  17. Hey, another German descendant! Actually, I think my last name means "mountain man" -- at least that's the family rumor. Random German trivia: Some of my extended family (now deceased) were firm followers in Hitler, kept his photo up and refused to believe he caused the Holocaust. Very interesting.......

  18. Oh. My. Goodness. Have you been hiding under my bed, Bailey dear? I'm pretty sure you have just reiterated the gist of a thousand conversations between myself and my brother this year. My Spanish story could nearly be swapped with yours and no one be the wiser!

    Mi hermoso y yo started out years ago on the same "see and hear" program you used (name with held to protect the guilty) and all I got out of it was "la mesa" and "el huevos". But hey- I still remember that much, right?!? I learned more by the tapes from the library and Spanish picture books. I can still sing the colors en Español. Then 2 years ago I started Rosetta Stone. (Version 2, I might add.) And I couldn't stand it. Didn't get it, (didn't hardly work on my ancient Behemoth laptop I owned until it died last January.) I learn by hands on, doing and enter acting with people, so needless to say, Rosetta Stone didn't cut it. My 2 brothers are currently doing Rosetta Stone version 3 and they love it. My 8 year old blond-headed-blue-eyed brother is better at rolling his R's than me, to my constant envy.... Interesting side note, Mom pushed for naming him "Santiago" but Dad said a Spanish first name with a Russian last name would really throw people. And as it turned out, he's the only one of our family of 6 that looks like our Germanic/Bohemian heritage. Go figure.

    So last year my brother and I went to a community college for a year of Spanish. We had a wonderful experience- my first ever college teacher brought us Mexican candy and desserts, played games, sang with us and even did arts and crafts- I'm still a 5 year old at heart. And I learned more than I thought I could, but still I feel like I should be re-taking Spanish 1 in the fall. I just can't learn a language that quickly! Grammar is the death of me- and that's just in English. My Spanish grammar!?! ¡Horible! I honestly would have completely flunked the online homework if I didn't have my detail oriented, instruction reading, nearly photographic memory of my other half (aka my brother- we're 2.5 years apart but in actuality, I'm pretty sure we're twins separated at birth. But Mom debunks this theory. She says 9 months of pregnancy is enough- 29 months in consecutive order would be idiotic) I wouldn't have kept my chin above water.

    I sympathize with you and will pray for you (and me!) and join you in praising Him for Google Translate. And now I've gotta decide what Spanish I'm taking this fall....

  19. I love your Google translate. Some things just don't work... It translated as I go (travel) to be. Pretty funny!

    Spanish kinda came to me naturally, but if you're anything like me, you need to DO something to learn. We have an adult ESL class for Hispanic immigrants where I live, and I volunteered with that. It's much easier to put effort into an actual conversation than trying to tell your teacher where you're going on vacation in Peru and how much your shirt you just bought cost. And talking to toddlers in Spanish is good practice! They are very forgiving, and in my experience, they never tell anyone that you are a failure at anything :)

  20. You are how old?? I'm amazed at your gift of words and your depth and your humor. (To God be the glory!) Just found your blog today. I'm enjoying it so much. (And I share your opinion of Rosetta Stone.)

  21. Your name literally does mean mountain man, but it´s much more likely that your ancestors were miners. That´s what a german "Bergmann" is - a miner. So the whole coal thing isn´t too far-fetched.

    A friend of mine went to Hillsdale, and she had a very good experience there, but they do love their languages - he studied 4 (German, Latin, French and Greek) and she majored in English.

    I really like your blog although I´m an avowed agnostic.

    Be well!

  22. Thank you, Anonymous -- especially for giving me another reason to think about Hillsdale. :D

    By the way, I'm curious about you saying you're an "avowed agnostic." Isn't that an oxymoron? I thought agnosticism was an uncertainty about whether there was a God, so an "avowed agnostic" would be a certain uncertainty, no questions asked. I'm unfamiliar with agnosticism apart from its basic definition, so forgive my ignorance -- I'd love to hear your thoughts, if you ever check back to this comment thread.

  23. Well, I took a bit of Spanish in fourth grade, that one year I was in *shudder* public school...however, the only thing I remember about the class was the teacher doing the hokey pokey in Spanish in front of the entire class--not exactly a sight to make me more interested in the language. I think I'll stick to Latin. :D

  24. What! I'd love to do the Hokey Pokey in Spanish! :D

  25. The German directions unit took me FOREVER and EVER. And I used Google Translate for the comics unit. And now I have a German Bible but I can't follow a word in real conversation. I feel like a homeschooling failure. I'm going to take a German class at the community college this fall.

    I wanna do the Hokey Pokey in Spanish! You know, they do the Hokey Pokey in Klingon at the Klingon convention . . .

    No, that's not a good reason to learn Klingon. (Now you've seen my ubernerdiness.)

  26. Well, I neglected to mention the video that accompanied the hokey-pokey...think a group of very fashionable 8o's kids...complete with multiple multicolored pairs of socks, leg warmers, headbands, and brilliantly colored clothing. I think it was the video more than my teacher that was disturbing...

  27. I loved competing with a friend of mine who claimed he was speaking Turkish(?[don't quote me]) but I believe it was gibberish. I would respond with a mix of Ewokese and Chinese. GRAND fun, neither of us knew what the other was talking about.

  28. Love the "nerd" languages. Speaking of grammar woes and google translate, something that is fun to do is to translate a long string of text into a different language, and then translate it back, to see what it actually says. Most is pretty obvious, since google doesn't know when you are speaking metaphorically, "His ways are higher than mine" will translate as "methods are taller." But I tried Chinese, and I forgot how flexible grammar is in Mandarin. You can have almost any word order, and it still means the same. So I put in a well punctuated, logical paragraph, then plug in the Chinese characters, and it spits out this string of words, in no obviously apparent order. Sometimes chunks of whole phrases or sentences are scrambled, sometimes words are just WRONG ( I know one reason is that in Chinese, there is one word for he, him, she, her, and maybe it. The same fact hold true for our state of being verbs-one word) Anyhow, I guess my point was that Google translate can be useful for grammar insight, and word checking as well


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