Learning a second language can be difficult, but it has become a goal for me. I have been told that this is even more difficult for adults. Children, I am told, have an easier time. While I learned a little French growing up in Canada, I never really put it to use and never became conversational.
Living in the USA, Spanish became a much more useful language for me. Learning a new language has not been without its challenges, misunderstandings and setbacks. However, all in all, one of the things I have found is that you just have to get out there and try speaking the new language even if you make mistakes or have misunderstandings. It is fine to study, but speaking the new language accelerates your learning significantly.
Through CDs and online programs such as DuoLingo, I started to learn the basics:
Hola – hello
Como estas – how are you?
Me llamo Carey – my name is Carey
As I progressed, I learned more useful phrases:
Donde esta el bano? – where is the bathroom?
Un agua, por favor – A water, please
Pretty soon my vocabulary expanded to be able to read a menu:
Carne – meat (beef)
Cerco – pork
Pollo – chicken
Pescado – fish
Over time, little by little, and through real life practice, I learned more and more and was soon able to get along in Spanish. Putting myself in real life situations helped. English is one of the most sought after languages in the world to learn. It is the international language of business and around the world many of the people we ran into spoke English as their second language much better than I spoke Spanish. Many times when I spoke my first few words to the waiter, hotel clerk, shopkeeper, etc. they would recognize that I was a native English speaker and switch to English. I would tell them, “Quiero aprender mas espanol. Hablamos en espanol?” – I would like to learn more Spanish. Can we speak in Spanish? Most of the time they would comply and we would only switch to English when I got stuck.
Learning a language in a classroom setting or from books, CDs or online courses doesn’t always simulate real life situations. The basics are there, but usually there are everyday variations and follow-on questions that aren’t always covered in the class. Take this example of ordering at a restaurant. You expect it to go something like this and have practiced (even if just in your head) how you are going to order your meal.
You – I would like a Coke and the hamburger platter.
Server – Yes, sir. I will get that for you.
I have learned that the conversation usually goes more like this:
You – I would like a Coke to drink and the hamburger platter.
Server – Regular Coke or Diet Coke?
You – Ahh, umm, ahh Regular
Server – With ice or without ice.
You – Ahh, umm, ahh Yes.
Server – Yes, what? With ice or without?
You – Ahh, with?
Server – How do you want your burger cooked? Regular fries or curly fries? What kind of cheese?
You – Ahh, umm, ahh, this is nothing like how it went on DuoLingo!!!!
Take a look at my posts http://ournomadicexperience.com/getting-around-santo-domingo/ and http://ournomadicexperience.com/stop-in-the-name-of-the-law/ for some of my experiences partially understanding what is going on when the other person only speaks Spanish and I am still a beginner.
I find hearing the language as spoken by the people you are around and getting familiar with the sounds and the cadence of the language helps even if you can’t understand everything. One little game that I played when we were first in the Dominican Republic was, “Guess what the total price of what you just bought was.” The Dominicans were pretty tough for me to understand at first. They speak very quickly and contract a lot of their words and phrases. I even had a hard time understanding numbers, like when they tell you how much something is and how much change you should get. So, when in a grocery store, for example, I would take my purchases up to the cashier and after they rang it up they would tell me how much it was. I would guess at what that number was and always make sure to give them more than that amount so that I would get change. I would then tell my wife what I thought they said and then when I got the receipt, check it to see if I was right. For example:
Me – Cuanto cuesta? – How much?
Cashier – 193 Pesos
Me -*OK, I think they said 123 Pesos. I will give them 200 Pesos just to make sure. I hand them the 200 Pesos and tell my wife, Susan. “I think they said 123 Pesos.”
Cashier hands me the change and I check the receipt – Rats! Close but missed it! – “ciento noventa y tres, not ciento veintitres”
Even in English, different situations and environments use a different set of words than your standard, everyday vocabulary. For us, this environment was going to church. There are lots of words that are used in church that aren’t everyday words – prayer, worship, joy, praise, etc. We attend church regularly even if we are in a place where we don’t understand the language. Modern technology helps us with this. Today, words of songs are projected on a screen for the congregation to sing along. With that and Google Translate, I am able to look up the words I am unfamiliar with. Before looking up the word, I try and guess what it might be given context or similarity to other words I am familiar with. I feel that this gives me practice and I only use Google Translate to double check.
One morning I saw the words in a song that were very puzzling to me:
Jesus murio por nuestros pecados
In my mind I broke it down. Jesus – same in English. So far, so good. Murio – hmm…. Muerte means die or death. This probably means “Jesus died.” Por – for, I know that one! Nuestros – our, I know this one as well. Pecados – I know this one, I just had it for dinner last night – Fish! “Jesus died for our fish.”
Wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense. Is it talking about Jesus making the disciples fishers of men? Maybe it is talking about Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes? But what does that have to do with Jesus dying? I even plugged it into Google Translate – Jesus murio por nuestors pescados. Yup, Jesus died for our fish. Very strange!
After the verse came around again, I noticed one slight difference. It didn’t say pescado. It said pecado! (No “s”) Pescado means fish, pecado means sin. Jesus died for our sins made a lot more sense!
So, if you are learning a new language, don’t get discouraged. With practice over time you will progress. Count on there being challenges and setbacks. Eventually, you will progress and will likely have some funny experiences to recall later.