Not So Fast, Kid

My knowledge of the Spanish language stems from two things:

First: My ability to speak Filipino – or more accurately, Tagalog – which has a lot in common with español. Words like trabajo (work), cubiertos (silverware), guapo (handsome), hielo (ice) and calle (street), just to name a handful, are basically the originals of the Tagalog versions: trabaho, kubyertos, guwapo, yelo, kalye. Colonial influence at its finest, I guess.

Second: The language app Duolingo, which I’ve been using off and on for the last three months. In that time I’ve learned such useful phrases as, “Los caballos son animales (The horses are animals)” and “Soy un pingüino (I am a penguin).” You know, the everyday, conversational stuff.

Until today, I’d never taken a Spanish class in my life.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that, when spoken to at a rate of talking-to-a-three-year-old, I could understand bits and pieces of conversations in Spanish. Granted, much of it was me picking up two or three words in a sentence and piecing them together through context clues, facial expressions and gestures, but it was far more comprensión than I thought I was capable of. And I’m decent at pronunciation too, just because I’m used to short vowel sounds and rolling r’s – a skill that many who speak English, with its long o’s and variant intonations, tend to have trouble with.  All in all, I was pretty proud of myself.

I suppose the organizers at Mester, our partner organization here in Spain, were pretty impressed, too: Enough, at least, to place me in intermediate instead of basic Spanish for the classes we’re required to take here.

Talk about a major bubble burst. I spent an hour and a half today wading helplessly through verb tenses – despite the fact that our instructor,  Maria (not to be confused with roommate Maria and host sister Maria), was patient with my utter discombobulation at the 5,000 different ways a single verb could be used.

Apparently there is a reason folks start at the lowly level of pingüinos and work their way up. And so. Tomorrow I’ll take me and my defeated Tagalog tush to the basic class, where I think a non-Spanish speaker like me really belongs.

Sigh. At least the instructor is cute. (Hola, Alvaro!)

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