How learning Spanish helped me bust the lockdown's monotony, and ace those Narcos references
In the latest from our series 'How I became a boss at', an account of learning Spanish — from simple phrases and greetings to taking a Level 1 exam
'How I became a boss at...' is a series where individuals tell us about a skill or pursuit they mastered during the coronavirus-related lockdown.
In part 6, learning a new language.
In college, I would often sing popular Spanish songs without having understood them. I'd memorise the lyrics with dedication, but I was a terrible singer; I'm grateful that my friends chose to stay in my life, despite my singing! But I have always felt the language has a ring to it — the words have a rhythm, an element I enjoyed.
This is why I wanted to learn the language. But between college, exams, hustling to get a job, and then trying to survive my job, this wish took a backseat. I did try and use some apps, but it’s just not the same without a human teacher. The app notifications, although delivered by cute mascots, nagged me to the point that they made me anxious.
After the lockdown was announced, work from home quickly turned into 'home for endless work'. Each day began to look exactly the same, and I needed to break the monotony of it all. In a conversation with a friend where we discussed how both of us were stuck in a rut, he happened to mention that his sister has expertise in Spanish and wanted to pursue a career in teaching the language. Why don't we sign up to be among her first students, he asked. It worked perfectly: we would have something new and creative to do, and she would have a bunch of willing students through whom she could hone her skills.
And so it began. With her in the US, my friend in Australia and their cousins and I in India, we figured out a suitable time to have our classes. It was not an easy task, considering the different time zones. We began meeting virtually every weekend. Starting with the basics — the alphabet, numbers, colours, days of the week — we then moved on to simple phrases and greetings which would help us to get by if we found ourselves in a Spanish-speaking place.
After this, we moved on to verbs, their forms, usage and sentence construction. It takes a while to get the syntax right, but practising it over and over again helps. With every class, we built our vocabulary; we would note down new words along with their meanings as soon as we came across them.
Sometimes, we would all quote famous Spanish dialogues from movies and TV series, Narcos being the most popular one. You’d think it would annoy our tutor, considering that most memorable dialogues and phrases from Narcos aren't exactly nice, but she was fine with it! In fact she'd play along and explain the usage of the words to us, in further detail. She also directed us towards some movies and videos that we could watch, to better grasp the tone and accent. That really helps to understand the feel of the language. From my experience I've found that it is easier to learn a language when you hear it continuously being spoken.
Four months into the basics course, and we're all now going to register for the Level 1 exam.
I must mention here that now that I know the basics, the apps are proving to be useful. I use them to test my grammar skills and to build my vocabulary. But the initial hand-holding was important to me, before I could begin exploring on my own.
I'd recommend that you take on an approach that suits you the best, everyone learns in a different way. Apart from full-fledged in-person teaching sessions and apps/websites, you can also find learning communities online, filled with like-minded people, where you can begin learning as a group. Such an experience can be more fun than a typical class. In our own class, we made new friends and often exchanged Spanish poems, literature and movies.
It's also amazing how many words are similar across languages. I’m not just saying words in, for example, Spanish and English (they are sister languages), but Spanish and Marathi, too! Though not exactly the same, they are similar sounding and there are some similar usages. I noticed how my mind was trying to comprehend the language: it kept drawing parallels between Spanish and the languages I already knew, grammar- and syntax-wise. Knowing English helps a great deal while learning Spanish.
That made me wonder, how did the first people design and learn languages for the first time? Did they just make up some sounds and decide to roll with it? How did they decide which words are good enough for them to use, and which ones aren’t?
Maybe I’ll take up the history and origins of languages next. The lockdown is extended anyway. Now, to look for a willing teacher and fellow students!
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