« fascinating in its alienness | Main Index | some whining, and after that a Batman comic review »

02/18/2003: disgruntled

I got a mail from amazon.com that the delivery of the Nightwing TPBs I ordered is going to be delayed. When I ordered on February 1st their website said they'd be able to deliver them in one or two weeks, now they hope they can send them within the next two weeks. This sucks. Also I'm slightly envious of all the people who get to go to fun slash cons, like Escapade. Sigh.

Not really fandom related, but in keeping with my generally disgruntled mood, I'd also like to mention that my Spanish skills aren't really improving. Not least because my Spanish course fell victim to a cost-cutting measure, an all too common fate for these things it seems.

You know, once upon a time -- okay not quite that long ago, but when I started college anyway -- my university offered free language courses for students, even if they didn't have that language as a major or a minor, or as a requirement. The university just provided the opportunity for all its students to learn and practice useful language skills. Since here a physics major doesn't allow for a minor in a language (and I wouldn't have wanted to do one anyway), that was a great opportunity for me to practice my French once a week. But then the university implemented "cost-cutting measures", and wouldn't (or couldn't) offer language courses for free anymore, unless of course you study languages. But those are quite different courses from the ones aimed at students from other departments anyway.

Well, that ended my regular French practice, though reaching the sort of "frustration plateau" where you don't seem to be really getting better also had its part. I mean, I don't know if it's that way for everybody, but for me at first when starting with a new language progress seems quite fast, and okay you can't say a lot of interesting stuff, but you really notice how you understand more and more. Then after a while comes the point when you know all the major basic grammar stuff, understand quite a lot, know more or less how to talk in "standard situations" (like introducing yourself, buying or ordering food, asking for help and directions, naming your hobbies, expressing likes and dislikes,...) but you still can't really talk freely about interesting things, because your active vocabulary is just too small for that, and also your passive vocabulary isn't large enough enough yet to read real books without looking up every other word. And watching films and such is also a problem because your listening comprehension has huge gaps as soon as people start to talk really fast, mumbling or in dialects, so for tv and movies it sucks pretty much all the time. And then it seems like your skills are going to suck like that forever, like it doesn't get better at all. The only language where I really got past that point so far has been English, mostly I guess because you get so much more exposure to it without having to seek it out.

Uh, before this ramble derails completely, my point was that when I decided to learn Spanish the university courses weren't free anymore, so I found a great course in a women's culture center, which was with a small group and quite cheap, if your income was below a certain level. However the local government changed (to a right-wing one) and decided not to subsidize women's projects like the previous government did, resulting in much less money for the center offering the course. I mean, they now barely manage (mostly through fundraising) to keep the rooms, the library and to organize an occasional reading or event, but they couldn't keep their course program. The teacher offered to continue privately with the group, but since the group wasn't large that would have been more expensive even with splitting the costs and very moderate payment expectations by the teacher.

I tried to continue to practice, do exercises on my own, read in Spanish, but without the looming deadline of a course once a week I'm much less diligent in these matters. Also I'm definitely not at a point in my progress where I am an interesting conversational partner for any of the people I know who speak Spanish fluently (as first or as foreign language). My knowledge might be better than no means of communication in situations without any alternative and rather simple topics, but when German is there as an alternative both speak fluently, my feeble Spanish stands no chance. Also I'm somewhat shy and reluctant to talk (outside of class room situations) in a language I don't know well, so I won't open my mouth to say something even if other people have a conversation in Spanish (or mostly in Spanish, since as usual when two bilingual people talk, there tend to be these switches) next to me. I noticed this reluctance when I was in the UK for the first time as a teenager, and while my English was okay, I had never been to an English speaking country before or used English in everyday communication. I tend to have this (slightly irrational) fear that nobody will understand anything of what I'm trying to say, that I will embarrass myself horribly, etc. etc. I know that language learning only really works if you try to talk, and I know a lot of people who just jump in and use what they know, no matter the skill level, but -- I don't know. For me it's just not a very pleasant feeling to only have a minimal range of a language at my disposal, it somehow feels worse or more illiterate than not knowing the language at all. Which is sort of ridiculous, yet on the other hand, when you don't speak a language at all, others will just think that you don't speak the language, when you talk funny or wrong, people may think all kinds of things about you.

Anyway I'm not getting a lot of Spanish practice right now. At least I'm not wholly Babel Fish dependent anymore when I get Spanish e-mails on mailing lists.

Posted by RatC @ 07:54 PM CET
[link] [TrackBack]

Replies: 2 comments

I understand your frustration about the Spanish. I am perennially frustrated that the foreign-language skills I had when I was a university student have largely evaporated from disuse. I used to speak French fairly well, with some Spanish and some Hebrew also, and now I've lost them all. Sometimes I dream that I am in a foreign country, and that although I used to speak the language, in the dream I'm never able to call the words to mind.

For what it's worth, I'm terrifically impressed with your English skills. I realize writing is different from speaking aloud, but even so, you express yourself so eloquently in English...! I'm lucky if I can scrape out "please" and "thank you" in German.

Posted by Kass @ 02/18/2003 08:48 PM CET

With English school here "forced" me to get to a level where you can do the fun things, like reading, watching tv, and of course talking and writing. After nine mandatory years with at least three or more hours of English a week you get to that level even without a great talent for languages. And after that it's easy to just keep using it, not least because I'm a fan of lots of stuff that's in English, and of course it's very common on the internet.

One reason why I'm still slightly bitter about having been encouraged to take Latin as second language is that I think with seven years of French in school instead of just three, I might have gotten to that point with French as well. But they told you in my school that you ought to decide in favor of Latin if you were good with mathematics and that it would be easier for you than French (while people for whom English was easier were advised to take French), and of course they also gave the whole spiel about its value for classical education. I liked the idea of French, because even then I liked lots of French comics which I could read only in translation (and of course many aren't translated), but my parents didn't think that was a proper motivation, and while my mom was somewhat in favor of French (it was her second foreign language as well), my dad was in favor of Latin, and my siblings both had decided on Latin as well (they'd been told the same thing, that you should take Latin if you're good in math), and especially my older brother (whom I like very much) is a big fan of dead languages. And the school said that learning French would be easier and faster once you had Latin, which is true, and that you could always take it as you third language, but it turned out that for me even three intensive years of French with having "a Latin advantage" just weren't enough to get to the "fun part" of knowing a language, instead of just speaking some.

Posted by RatC @ 02/18/2003 10:23 PM CET