Come On

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.

Mexico.

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.

HPIM0425-2-1200
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Madrid, also with an impossible dream

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?

68 thoughts on “Come On

  1. I’ve heard ads for that program but didn’t know anyone who’s used it – until now! Sounds like you’re learning a lot, even if it is confusing.
    I had one year of college Spanish and one year of French. Never got far in either, but I enjoyed the challenge in a strange, masochist kind of way. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ahhh over a decade ago we left the U.S. to move to Nicaragua and I had one word of Spanish at the time: “Hola!”

    It took me five years to learn Spanish, as I am firstly not good with languages and secondly I hit a lot of brick walls and frustrations along the way, as you appear to be experiencing right now. So I took breaks, I rested and then got back on the horse and stuck with it. I watched tv shows in Spanish and played Spanish songs and looked up the lyrics and practiced on vendors, neighbors and anyone patient enough to chat with me. And eventually things started to happen… I started to conjugate verbs without getting frustrated and my vocabulary grew, and finally I was really enjoying the language and the fact that I could communicate with locals. So stick with it and things will happen!

    And then we went to Asia…. and the thing that I missed, was hearing and talking Spanish every day. Now I’m rusty and need to immerse myself again and hopefully this time things will be easier as I’m hoping that my brain has stored my Spanish ability and it will be about unlocking the key to a room unused for years. Immersion is what works for me, way better than lessons. Hearing and repeating, as opposed to reading, was key for me.

    And hey Spanish is WAY WAY easier to learn than Vietnamese. Not that I even tried to learn Vietnamese!!

    Peta

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Peta. Sorry for the slow response, I just found your comment in my SPAM folder. Hopefully marking you “not SPAM” will help in the future.

      I’ve heard from several sources that immersion is really the best way to learn. That doesn’t help me at the moment, being immersed in Portland. We do have a neighbor down the block originally from Guatemala that we’ve chatted with on fairly rare occasions, but even if we wanted to chat her up in Spanish just for practice – well guess what’s harder to do these days!

      I am finding that I’m starting to understand written Spanish a little, but I think if regular conversion went flying my direction it would nearly all go over my head.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had two years of Latin in high school, so some of what you said here (gendered nouns, the complexities of conjugation) are familiar. I will say that when I became interested in native plants, that Latin was a real help when I began trying to sort out botanical names.

    I took French in high school and college, and it served me fairly well in rural France. When I hit Paris, I decided they were speaking another language entirely, although it may only have been their habit of speaking at warp speed while waving their hands in the air. Today, I’ve learned a little Spanish — enough to get by on the docks and sing along with the Tejano music that the guys blare from their boom boxes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Was the Latin an elective? If so, why choose that over a living language?

      Somehow, I’m not surprised you pursued languages. You seem to have an affinity for words in general, as well as for learning new things.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One year of Latin was required and two years were recommended. Of course, those were the days when we were memorizing lists of vocabulary words and diagramming sentences in English class, and putting on Greek and Roman plays in Western Civ, so it all fit together rather nicely.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. God only knows how long I have contemplated learning’ Spanish, Dave. And wished I had pursued it instead of French in high school and college (with one year of Latin). Like how many people speak French in California and Oregon? Fortunately I have been able to slide by in Mexico because Peggy speaks it more or less fluently depending on how much she is using it. Except for the time we were stopped by gun-toting-teenage soldiers wanting to know if were were carrying any ‘armas.’ She had been speaking to them fluently until they used the word and then she didn’t understand them. We were lucky we didn’t get shot. And we were lucky that I knew the word. 🙂 –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

    1. True that. I’ve always thought Spanish was a more practical language to learn, even back in my Minnesota years. But I have to admit that if I can survive learning basic Spanish, I wouldn’t mind learning a bit of French or Italian, or maybe a few others. The language package offers 14 different languages – that could keep me busy for a while. 😉 (Or at least provide an excuse to travel.)

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  5. May I suggest to study Latin first, so you will have a solid foundation in learning Spanish. After all you are aiming to study a Romance language, which because of Roman rule of Spain for at least 500 years is the closest related to the Latin language. Here is proof: comedere – to eat, comedo – I eat, comedis – you eat, comedit – he/she/it eats, comedimus – we eat, comeditis – you eat (plural), comedunt – they eat. And that is just the present tense. Have I convinced you, Dave? Haha! Just joking. By the way there is a free Spanish course at duolingo.com, which in its thoroughness is unsurpassed by any of the commercially available online courses. Vale, mi amice David!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sure, Latin, no problem. I’ll learn that one tomorrow. 😉 I checked various reviews before buying the Babel package and it seemed to do pretty well. Duolingo did pretty well too. Surprisingly, Rosetta Stone didn’t get great reviews. I think the weakness of all these packages is they just teach words and grammar. At some point you really need to be speaking with natives…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry you had to postpone your trip to Mexico, Dave. I will miss hearing your stories and seeing your photos. I took four years of Spanish in high school and two more years in college. Thirty-five years later, I traveled for six months in Mexico and another six months in Spain. Once embedded in these countries and forced to use Spanish, I was surprised how much I actually remembered. As you say, verb conjugation is the hardest part of learning Spanish. Of course, the present and past tenses are the most used, by far. You can easily add the future tense without conjugating the infinitive by saying, for example, I am going to eat (voy a comer). Anyway, good for you for taking on the challenge. Buena suerte.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, I didn’t know it was even possible to take four years of Spanish in high school. I had two years, and when I was in Spain 8 or 9 years later I found I’d forgotten most of it. I guess you pounded it in a little harder and deeper. At the moment the topic is direct and indirect pronouns. I kind of understand it, but it doesn’t come naturally. I haven’t gotten to past tense beyond past participle.

      I’ll be curious to see how far we take this.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your post made me smile. 🙂 I get your frustration. I don’t remember most of my school grammar. I write/speak languages on instinct and can’t quote rules. These days, I need to Google phrases to ensure I’ve not auto-translated (in my mind) a phrase from another language. Korean grammar is so different from anything we’ve learned before. I try spotting similarities in languages to form a pattern. When I can’t find a pattern, I accept it as a rule. 🙂 Korean gets more complicated when you learn casual and formal/polite Korean. The verbs are conjugated differently in both cases. It’s interesting to learn a new language because it changes the way we think. All the best! Looks like a fun activity. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thanks for reminding me why I had such a hard time conjugating verbs when I took high school Spanish! The basic language isn’t so hard to understand, but I struggled with getting the correct usage. And now you’ve validated that struggle and taken away the shame!
    I’m sorry about your trip, but hope you can go someday. Meanwhile, keep studying Spanish!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Dave – you could probably skip learning the “vosotros” form, until you go to Spain, not really used on this side of the ocean. My Spanish isn’t that great, a jumble of Mexican, Chilean, etc. but those forms, like “el come, tu comes, etc.” just starts to feel more natural after a while. I don’t know if you have cable TV, but it might carry a “telenovela” channel, with Mexican soaps, that can be a fun way to pick up some phrases.
    I was lucky, and visited Guadalajara for a few days recently, just before the epidemic hit, my first time to Mexico – -and yeah, ¡Sí! claro que sí!! (Absolutely!) you’ve got to go!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Robert, I just now noticed your comment, it didn’t show up in the reader.

      The vosotros form is the first one I forget about, so it’s good I can skip it. On the other hand, I’m surprised they don’t use it in Mexico; being so close to Texas, land of “y’all”.

      I figured you’d have at least a basic handle on Spanish due to immersion in Chile. Just out of curiosity, do they pronounce ll like ly or like ja? (j or soft g sound). I’ve heard it both ways in Babel, with the notion the Argentines use the later.

      I don’t think the tour we booked included Guadalajara. It ran eastward, from Mexico City towards Cancun. Still, we like a redo early next year if possible.

      It remains to be seen if we can retain our interest in studying Spanish. I did notice postings from a source on Instagram (that I never subscribed to), with text first in Spanish then repeated in English. It’s been interesting seeing how much of the Spanish meaning I can guess at. About 25%, at this stage. Of course, if they were jabbering at me at 900 mph it’d be closer to 0%…

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      1. Hi Dave
        Great question. Vos is used in Argentina and Chile uses some very strange offshoot that even Chileans have trouble with.

        Mexican Spanish is fun, and despite the neighboring ya’ll they have some great terms. Que tranza for example instead of que pasa

        Chileans use the J sound and you correctly pointed out the soft g in Argentina. Argentina’s Spanish is a uniquely strange sounding one to me.

        Well I hope you get there soon, it’s a shame it was canceled.

        25% is a good start, and I think even with their rapid fire Spanish, Mexicans speak far more clearly than most and I have heard that Mexico City in particular is a bit easier.
        Fingers crossed you can get there soon

        Liked by 1 person

  10. The worst and most wonderful thing about Spanish is that it flows beautifully off the tongue, thus it is easy to speak and thus it is tempting to speak with amazing speed. Once while waiting for a ferry boat in Santander Spain late one night, a kid standing next to me was talking so fast to one of his friends – that he literally passed out. Apparently, it happens all the time. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. He must have forgotten to breathe between sentences. For me at the moment, the speed of sound occurring in Spanish occurs faster than my ears can process it. Must be those extra conjugation syllables being compressed into the same sound waves (not to mention out of order pronouns, etc.)

      Like

  11. Language: love of my life!
    Dave, I ADORE grammar, love all the crazy conjugations of verbs (you ought to try a case language like Greek or German, where even the noun endings change depending on their role in the sentence!). I could diagram sentences all day and argue over the use of proper referents for pronouns for hours. I started with Modern Greek (my grandparents’ language), studied Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Latin in school, studied abroad, and have dabbled in other languages as I travel, just for the fun of recognizing words on signs in Mongolia or Slovakia or wherever. I think it would be super challenging to learn an Asian language or some others with tones. Enjoy your lessons, and I really hope you can reschedule your trip soon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Impressive! Language doesn’t come as naturally to me (although I was pretty good at a range of computer programming languages.) English was one of my worst subjects back in high school, and I was average at best in Spanish. And although I’ve gotten better at writing I still can’t spell worth a damn without a spell checker.

      But somehow, I ended up writing a blog…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s pretty common in neo-Latin languages, Dave! In Italian: io mangio tu mangio egli mangia, noi mangiamo, voi mangiate essi mangiano and so on…

    Now, get yourself over to the Babbel course for Hungarian. I’m killing myself. WHY OH WHY.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I love languages and speak conversational French. I started on Italian in college but found it confusing to be studying both languages at the same time. I really want to learn standard Arabic but I expect it’ll be such an intense process that I should maybe consider how often I’ll use it. Is the time required worth the effort? Spanish would be much more useful given our current location in North America. Good luck with your studies!! Muchas gracias for your thought provoking post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Computer languages were more my speed. Strangely enough, despite working with them for nearly 40 years, after a few years of retirement even they’ve gotten very rusty. (And their syntax is much simpler.)

      I think I read somewhere that “standard” Arabic was a misnomer, because there are so many versions of it.

      Spanish does seem like it’d be more useful, not just because of Mexico, but for all those other Spanish speaking countries we could visit…

      Like

  14. The Romance languages are as complicated as actual romances apparently! Me, I speak beginner French but read it very well, and I took German in high school which prepared me for Anglo-Saxon in university!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I hoping to get to the point where I can at least read Spanish and understand more than half of it, and speak enough “pidgen” Spanish to fake my way through basic situations. Understanding rapid fire Spanish spoken my direction? I have my doubts.

      Are you in the French speaking section of Canada?

      Like

    1. Me too. I think it’s hard for most people. It’s surprising how many folks don’t even speak their native language well. (And I’d hate to have to try to learn English starting from another language.)

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m a rare example of a person who has never studied another foreign language. They were still electives in high school (though I think that changed the very year after I graduated), so no habla Espanol (or anything else) for me. I would very much like to learn another language though, and have considered Babel. I want to go for something like French or Russian instead.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. They were elective when I took Spanish back in high school, but might have been one of those, “you have to take this or this or that” things. It was a long time ago. As for what to study, why not go for what interests you? It’d be a huge waste of time otherwise, unless it was a job requirement.

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  16. Good for you, Dave. I taught myself French to fluency level by being around French people (I lived in New Caledonia), reading, listening to the radio, just interacting in real situations. There is no better way to learn. I also taught myself to get by in Polish (a nightmare of a language), Hungarian, Slovak, and Czech when I lived in those countries.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve heard immersion is the best way to go. That’s a weakness with learning it Babel style; there’s vocabulary and grammar, but not much for conversational, and no humans to interact with in the language apart from my wife.

      You have a natural talent in English. Do you think language as a talent crosses over?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I do believe that it crosses over. My ex, who’s French, was continually amused by my creative use of French. English is a language very rich in vocabulary, so trying to find the right words in another language sometimes takes a bit of creativity.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I remembered that there were genders and forms, I’d just forgotten (or never realized) how many there are! Fortunately, the goal isn’t to become super fluent, just enough to get by and maybe understand/appreciate a bit more when we find ourselves in Spanish speaking countries.

      And it doesn’t hurt to build new pathways in the old grey matter either.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. This brings back memories. I bought one of those teach-yourself-Spanish audio courses on CD prior to my visit to Mexico and Cuba. I don’t remember much now, but it did make a difference to my trip, particularly as I learnt by rote, Puedo tomar tu foto? I relied on google translate for the more complex stuff.

    I’m pretty good at French. On the other hand I just learnt 5 words for my trip to Myanmar, and that was enough.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Ha, ha, fun and games Dave. Wonderful post that reminds me of the joys of learning Italian, which in my view is much harder than French (took French at high school for 6 years).
    Italian (people also) seems to have an endless plethora of moods, verbs, and whatever else thrown in to make this language hard to learn…or maybe I’m just a slow learner! 😉

    Growing up speaking English and a pigeon Italian (no grammar lessons) – half from the north and half from the south – I hardly used the language for 30 years.

    Land in southern Italy where not many speak English and quickly (or not) the mind forges through this forgotten language – albeit quite rough. Doing Duolingo lessons helps with the grammar and think I’ve improved, although, my accent still gives me away as soon as I open my mouth!

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Soon to be officially in my late-70s, it has been suggested as we age, we should exercise our minds with crosswords, puzzles, etc. They bore me [each to his own]. Now I start every day with the free courses from Duolingo. I am on my 132nd straight day studying Spanish and German. It will take me about three years to master to any degree. But I just don’t have a “ear” for languages. Indeed, when I am finished, I expect to proclaim “I am deaf in three languages.” Alie, on the other hand, spent three hours a day one summer studying Italian. She didn’t master it, but she did learn enough to hold a conversation with a back-street leather worker who didn’t speak English.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I do it too, although I’m probably 15 years younger than you. I do crosswords and jigsaws too. I guess all those years of having to deal with computer code when I wasn’t really in the mode has given me a different idea of boring.

      I suspect I’ll eventually get to the point where I can read a reasonable amount of Spanish, but as for hearing and speaking with any fluency, maybe not. But then, if we’re still doing this in three years…

      Liked by 1 person

  20. This was really entertaining, Dave – and well-written!! 😉 I am totally with you on having forgotten what infinitives are and just going by the sound of things. I studied French in high school, and later wished I’d studied Spanish – it would have been more useful. oh well. We were going to be in Vietnam at this time – actually in March – and I didn’t even attempt to learn any Vietnamese, I’m sorry to say. But maybe I’m not sorry. Anyway, now you have another year!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I am in awe of multi-linguists, and tip my hat to you and your wife, Dave, for your spirited determination to learn Spanish. It’s too bad you were not able to go through with your Mexico trip, but you’ve had a good start to learning the language and soon, I hope, you will be on your way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some folks have a talent for it. I suspect a lot of them do it by ear first and then worry about the grammar later, much like learning a song or a script for actors. (I have no idea how actors do it, my memory doesn’t work that way.) Let’s hope we can all get back to normal soon, but I suspect with as many folks opting to go by their own rules we may be playing whack-a-mole for quite a while.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, reminds me of my dad’s favourite (and far too frequently told!) joke: A foreigner was trying to learn English and had finally mastered the pronunciations of rough, through, cough, though, bough, brought, etc. To celebrate he went for a walk and chanced to look up at a sign outside a movie house (he said cinema) which read: ‘Ben Hur, pronounced success!’ That was when he threw himself into the canal!

        Liked by 1 person

  22. Knowing Spanish quite a bit myself, I think it’s both easier and more difficult to learn than many other languages. The pronunciation is straightforward if you have learn the rules. And also the grammar in order to be able to start speaking is pretty straightforward. The conjugation in most cases follow the rules. When you get to the more advanced part, however, included for instance subjunctive, it gets fare more complicated. You asked about language skills. I do speak Norwegian, English, some German and a tiny bit French. And yes, some Spanish. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being as multilingual as you are, I suspect learning languages and their underlying concepts is something you’ve probably done since childhood. I’d guess that would make picking up new languages easier – I know that was the case for the various programming languages I used to work in. For me, I imagine it’ll be like taking on anything complex; the more I do it the easier it’ll get. (Apart from the use it or lose it problem.)

      Liked by 1 person

  23. ¡Bienvenido al club de estudiantes de español! I’ve been studying Spanish for the last three years on and off and feel how slow my progress is. The best ways for me to learn is when I’m actively drowning in the language and have to paddle about as best I can. There’s so many pitfalls to learning any language one doesn’t grow up in…so many nuances and shades and turns of phrases I’ll never know…

    Good luck with your lessons!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gracias por el bienvenido! We do some to be making progress, at least based on the review sections. Still, if I look at the text on a Spanish language blog or magazine, most of it might as well be Greek. On the other hand, there is that 15-20% I can make out now…

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I took beginner’s French for 5 years. Really didn’t want to learn the language. My sister was learning Spanish and I wanted to learn it as well but school didn’t give us a choice of what to learn as a 2nd language. Vic failed Spanish class but he knows his numbers so that helps. I’m really lazy learning languages 😦 That’s my fault. Spanish would be so helpful since we love going to Mexico and South America.

    I was thinking of going to Korea this year because the 50th anniversary of the Korean War and lot of my relatives served during the war and truce time. But it’ll have to wait till there’s a vaccine out. So I tried learning Korean on duolingo. Yeah, that made Spanish look easy! Maybe I should try duolingo for Spanish while in lockdown. My Argentine friend said she thinks English is easier because Spanish has so many different congregated verbs. She was impressed when we visited her in Buenos Aires because we could read the menu. I told her that we mainly know the dishes we eat back home and we have a large Spanish speaking population in NY.

    Congrats! Now I should move my lazy butt to learn a language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could see a school require that you take a foreign language, but I find it hard to believe you couldn’t choose which one to take! Five years of French should give you a pretty good grounding, especially if you have an opportunity to use it with someone.
      One of the blogs I follow, https://twobrownfeet.com/, is by a couple from India who are now expats in Korea. That’s really opened my eyes to how much Korea has to offer, I had no idea.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I follow them too! I msged them and they gave ideas. Was going to try and meet up with them but that will wait. Really want to go to the DMZ. Korea wasn’t really on my radar. They got me curious and then I got hooked on Korean War books. I’d like to visit the countries where my relatives were stationed at.

        Don’t remember much from French. Hated it. If I wasn’t forced to learn it it would have been ok. Wish they started us younger learning languages. I was in 4th grade. Dropped it for 1 year of Japanese in 9th grade.

        Liked by 1 person

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