Misconceptions on learning Spanish

I remember when I was back in university. As part of my English degree, I was told that I had to take two languages. Literally, different languages, not just something that was culturally different (a couple of friends not in English got away with courses about the French language’s cultural impact, rather than having to learn French, for example).

At the time, I signed up for French. I figured I already knew enough that I could ace the course and not worry about it. The other language was harder. My advisor suggested Latin, mostly because the one instructor he said I should have had a simple rule: ace all the weekly tests, you get 100% and you don’t have to take the final. I liked that plan.

Sadly, the plan didn’t work exactly as planned. The French teacher was an absolute bitch.

I don’t use that word often — bitch. It represents a very specific type of attitude in my mind, and using it means I really don’t like someone. And in this case, she was a bitch. Sadly, this seems to be a very common stereotype of French teachers. I don’t know why. I’ve had several over the years of forced French language education. I bailed after the first day — degree or not, I wasn’t putting up with that crap.

My advisor then suggested Spanish. “It’s simple,” he said, “no silent letters, no irregular verbs, you always know what’s masculine and feminine, and you always know where the accent goes.”

I took Spanish for four months. Had probably the best teacher for a language I’ll ever have. Sadly, I no longer remember her name, only that she made us do skits in Spanish without notes. Marshall and I talked a lot about chickens and bananas (we loved the alliteration — “platanos” and “pollos”). For the most part, I felt that the advisor wasn’t far off.

But now that I’m trying to speak Spanish properly, I’m finding that what my advisor told me was a crock of shit.

Sadly, this mistaken perspective has now earned me the title “Mr. Spanish” from Mark and Jason. Far too often I’ve opened my big yap, only to find out later that I wasn’t actually right. (Remember, I’m a know-it-all, which causes its own problems.) Despite lessons in Rosetta Stone (an outstanding language product — my extremely high praise to the software’s designers), it hasn’t hit some of the points I’ve been getting wrong.

My Spanish/English practical conversation guide, however, is showing me that I know sqwat. For example, my impression was that any (singular form) word ending in “a” was feminine, and pretty much anything a consonant was masculine. Way wrong. It’s generalisation, and it’s far from exact.

Silent letters? Try the “h”. It has no sound whatsoever. It’s there to distinguish between other words, but it’s not pronounced at all. (The “h” sound is pronounced by the “j”.) Otherwise, the letters are pronounced.

Irregular verbs? I’m sure there’s one there somewhere. I just haven’t found it yet.

About the only thing that still holds up is accents. It’s pretty simple: with certain letters (all vowels and the letter “n”) it’s on the second last syllable. Everything else is the last syllable. All exceptions are marked with an accent. So in that sense, it’s obvious.

I’m learning. I’m far from perfect, and I’ve resolved to keep my big trap shut until I know I can speak reasonably well. The key thing will be to take additional lessons, so we can correct all my bad habits.