You might think, from the title of this post, it’s all a big come on. Or that it’s a call to arms. But it’s not.
Actually, this post is about eating.
Sort of. Really, it’s about a bigger challenge.
Let’s back up a bit. Originally, before the pandemic set in, I planned on being gone these last couple of weeks of April. My wife and I would be on the road, adding another country to our list, visiting a neighbor we’ve yet to see.
This conjured up the usual what will we see, and do, and taste, and experience, and had given us something to look forward to in the six months since we opted for the tour. So, back in January, when I found an offer for lifetime access to all of Babel’s language training materials for an exceptionally good rate, I had to bite.
I was interested in learning basic Spanish. It seemed appropriate for the trip, and I figured those Spanish classes I took in high school waaaay back when might give me a leg up. Even if I’d forgotten nearly all of it.
When I confessed my purchase to my wife, I wasn’t surprised that she was interested too. She also had studied Spanish way back when, and knew some additional Spanish due to the Spanish words embedded in her milk tongue, Tagalog. Spain ran the Philippines for 400 years – some of it stuck. We decided to study together.
Besides, I figured as languages go, Spanish should be one of the easier ones to learn. I thought I remembered pronunciation was pretty straightforward, and it had to be simpler than learning English.
Little did we know.
But what does any of this have to do with eating, apart from biting off more than I can chew?
To describe some of this challenge, I’ll use the Spanish verb for “to eat”. The base form, or infinitive is comer.
Side note: how many of you remember high school grammar? I realize a lot of you are serious writers, but come on, don’t you really go more by sound and flow than by worrying about whether you’ve split an infinitive or garroted a gerund? When I started this, I didn’t even remember what an infinitive was much less how to split one.
There’s a claim the Eskimos have 50 words for snow. (Somewhat inaccurate, because of how their language is structured.) Even if it were true, I assert the Eskimos are posers next to the Spanish.
You see, comer is just a starting point. Spanish has this idea of conjugations, and they take it to ridiculous extremes. Comer has over 100 variations, and it’s just one verb. Do you think I kid? Check this dictionary entry.
Sure, English has conjugations too. For “to eat”: you have eat, eats, eaten, eating, and ate. That’s about it. There are helper words (am eating, have eaten, etc), but Spanish also has those for certain forms. The grammatical forms (present, past, future, preterite, and variations thereof) are similar in both languages and equally incomprehensible, but at least the conjugations are heavily reused in English. In Spanish, not so much.
Are you still with me? Head spinning yet? No? Let’s do one subset, simple present tense conjugations of eat and comer. (Don’t worry, this is as far as I’ll go – I’m still a beginner.)
In English: I eat, you eat, he/she/it eats, we eat, you all eat, they eat.
In Spanish: yo como, tu comes, el/ella/usted come, nosotros comemos, vosotros comeis, ellos/ellas/ustedes comen.
Notice each Spanish conjugation has its own suffix. Mostly, the various verbs will follow patterns for those forms, except when they don’t. (Irregulars. Ugh.)
So, in this “easy” language, each verb has a bazillion forms. That simple present form was one set. Add more sets for other tenses, moods, tense moods, gerunds, etc.
But wait! There’s more! Not only are there a ton of nouns to keep track of, but they have gender. The word “the” has two forms, el and la for use with masculine and feminine nouns. And la might also mean it, and el might also mean he. Adjectives can have different endings depending on the “gender” of the noun described. And don’t forget plurals, and pronouns, and word order, and…
Oh, come on.
Even though Mexico is now a wistful thought, at least for this year, we continue our studies. While we’ve put a lot of time into it we’re still beginners and are likely to be so indefinitely. And it gives me even more appreciation for folks that are multilingual, especially if they are fluent.
How about you? Have you studied other languages? Formal studies? Grew up multilingual? Expatriate immersion? What learning style works best for you?