Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Sorcery is This?

I am aware that I have a way of doing things that is unconventional. My study abroad experience is of course no different. I have elected to do a full calendar year abroad rather than an academic year, as you may be aware from reading my blog. It is gloriously entertaining to watch the faces of people at the university recognize me from this winter, scratching their heads and asking "Estuviste aqui antes, no?" "You were here before, weren't you?" I am certain that my situation is new for my program, and is probably new for the university I attend. Already I have encountered some kind of hick-up in the university email system related to my situation.

Another amusing reaction I receive is how impressed my previous acquaintances are with the level of Spanish I have reached in such a short amount of time. Thinking about it, I have been studying the language since last June, more or less. I took eight weeks of intensive Spanish over the summer in 2011. That fall semester I took the first term of second year Spanish. At the end of which I could confidently introduce myself and ask for the bathroom, but could not hold any form of spontaneous conversations. My first semester in Barcelona saw some improvement, but not as much as I had hoped four months would bring. The real turning point, I discovered, was the second time I enrolled in intensive courses. I spent one month with a handful of others speaking and practicing Spanish four hours a day, five days per week. At the same time I was meeting about twice per week with a Peruvian woman for language exchange. By the beginning of July I was talking politics and far above a B1 level in Spanish.

At this moment I feel the need to explain that in Europe, your linguistic level is measured on a six level scale. A1-C2. With A1 being someone who knows next to nothing, and C2 being an educated fluent speaker. A B1 is someone who can have basic conversations and convey ideas, but only on limited subjects and in simple sentence structures. C1 would be generally considered fluent with no higher education. For a fuller description, pop over to wikipedia and search for ways to measure language ability. They also have the American scale to compare with.

 I took the month of July off from classes, for my trips to London and the village, but continued daily practice with my brother in law, O, his family, and the local college students with whom I went out on weekends. Especially with one specific young man. The second half of August and the first week of September I spent in more intensive classes, where they placed me as a high B2 or low C1 (the group was small and we were quite mixed).
Now, back in Barcelona, I am enrolled in five classes taught entirely in Spanish and speak daily with my host family in the language.

When it all comes down to it, there are three important steps, I believe, to learning a language.
1. Get a practical base: That is, take a class that teaches fundamentals and a good deal of vocabulary.
2. Talk with someone: Once you can understand the basics, build the complexity by talking, if possible, on a daily basis with a native speaker. If you are too shy to talk much, find someone who likes to talk. It will be good for you to just listen, sometimes.
3. Use it in daily life: Listen to music in your new language. Watch movies, talk to friends, and read the news. Immersion is the fastest way to learn. And that means using the new language as if it was your first.

I believe that with full immersion the average person could reach a B2 level in around six months. That would be 20 hours a week of intensive course work (with 10 to 15 hours of practical homework outside of the class), four hours of conversation with a talkative native speaker, and an additional 5 to 10 hours of media or "fun," listening, watching, and reading. In short: 39-49 hours per week of the language you are trying to learn. (Or 936-1176 hours total.)  Obviously most people cannot give up that kind of time all at once. But this is my theory on learning a language quickly. Like anything else worth doing, it takes time, effort, and a will to succeed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back to Barcelona!

It was a bitter sweet goodbye as I left the Santander airport for the one in Barcelona. The summer went by so quickly, I hardly noticed how much my Spanish had improved, or how fond I had grown of the people there. Especially of one person in particular. It seems traveling women in my family are fated to meet someone special on our journeys. But romance is not a topic I intend to attend to here.

I was apprehensive as I got off of the plane, not sure if things would be alright, if coming back for the fall semester was what would be best for me. But the second I was on the street of my host family's apartment, I felt a sort of relief. I knew I was where I belonged. A hug from my host sister told me that they thought so too.

Of course, back home, September 11 marks a devastating day in our recent history. It is one of the few moments in recent history that everyone in the USA felt truly united. But here in Barcelona, September 11 is celebrated as the day of Catalonia. It represents their want to be severed from Spain.
 The Catalonian flag is a golden background with four red stripes. The Catalonian flag for independence includes a blue triangle with a five pointed star. Today I watched dozens of people carrying or wearing this mark of independence.
Buildings were strewn with either of the two pertinent flags. I suppose using the standard Catalonian flag signifies that you are neutral and flying the other shows your support of separation. Personally, although my feelings do not matter at all in this question of nationalism, I think that wanting an individual government is a sign of regression. The world improves when we are united.
People should be free to speak the languages and practice the religions they choose, and should not feel the need to seek out rivals or enemies. There should be no "them against us" situations. Just "us" against whatever mother nature throws our way. I believe cultural heritage and pride in that heritage are important. Especially if we are to keep open minds. But we must not be so prideful that we stifle the chance at unity, the chance for harmony. I take pride in acknowledging that I am a member of the human race. I hope someday everyone will be able to put first that they are human, and second that they are of a specific nation.