Monday, January 1, 2018

Three men with keys to Spanish - My heroes of Spanish language school

We did it! We made it through a year of Language School! I graduated in fact. Guess what I learned! Your language that you use everyday for everyday stuff is way bigger and more complex and beautiful and more of a gift than you imagine (I bet!)

To start with, language doesn't start with words, it starts with sounds. If you don't have the right collections of sounds in your tool box AND know when to use them... you can't speak the language.
Introducing, Doctor Manny.

Doctor of language, Dr Manny holds the keys of correct pronunciation as well grammatical roots and word/language origines (among other things). I love how Dr Manny can explain to me not just what is but WHY it is like it is. I love it when people have dug deeper and can tell the backstory. YES, words have backstories. Languages have backstories. Just like people and nations have backstories. On top of that, just like cultures have characteristics and ways of working that are sometimes very deeply ingrained and subtle, languages have "bents" to them as Dr. Manny says. Certain ways of doing things that explain why somethings are in that language. For example a "bent" of Spanish is fluidity. Spanish almost always gravitates towards fluidity of speech and sounds are always being linked together.

I am deeply grateful for the insights into Spanish phonetics, and also into the Latin American culture, that Dr Manny gave us.

Another thing, grammar is necessary for language, but if your grammar is like a tool that you have to go digging in your tool box to use, it is doing you not much good. If the grammar you have is a list of rules it going to be very hard to have a conversation. Language is much more alive than a math problem and in order to be able to use your mouth not just your pencil you need to learn how to use grammar in real life situations. Introducing, Richo Vargas.

Sometimes in life teaching is practical but not comprehensive, and sometimes teaching is by rule and totally comprehensive but then you never learn how to use what your learned. Richo did a good job covering all the material but taking most of the time to teach us how to use it, and MAKING us use it. Verb conjugation is hard but also important is what situations and for what meanings do you use that conjugation. This is where I realized that I have never fully thought through what I say and when and why I say it (even in English). For example, "I have gone" and "I had gone". What is the difference?  Or, "if I went" and "had I gone". There's so many parts of speech we use without a thought to any rule in the world. We just feel that is the right way to say it... sooo... yeah... There's some parts of Spanish I'm just going to have to feel out and get used to. I'm trying to study grammar but the reality is I'm only going to get so far because I'm not a grammarian and language study is really deep (at least for my brain). So I try to understand and I'll be trying to practice whenever I can.

I am very very thankful for Richo and his very practical but fairly comprehensive method of teaching grammar. I think he gave us what we needed to become conversational and tools to go farther than we can in a classroom.

Last thing about language learning, Practice practice PRACTICE. Sometimes language learning
comes down to having a patient ear, an un-wearyingly patient ear. Someone who will listen, correct gently (over and over), supply words missing in your vocabulary, who will speak simply avoiding sayings and expressions that don't translate without explaining them (half our language is made up of these sometimes!), who will struggle with you as you try to figure out what you want to say so you can break it down in your language so that THEN you can start trying to put into another language.
For us, this un-wearying ear was Alejandro Pantoja. He put in so many hours helping us. He was there to talk, to listen, to explain, to help when a presentation project was in  crisis, to plod through translation of papers, to supply conversation hours needed. He helped us in the coffee shop, in the classroom, in our homes, sitting on picnic tables, during the afternoon, during the evening, during the morning, during the summer between semesters, he helped while on the clock being paid as a tutor, and off the clock as a friend. This last year Alejandro was not a teacher in the language program. He was in charge of the tutors and he substituted some. My prayer is that the Lord would allow him to join the Language School staff and be a teacher full time so that he can help all the language students in the years to come.

There you have it! My three keys and the men that supplied them to me.

  • Language is BIG and beautiful. Be ready to dig into the language and the culture and get a good grasp of the language you are learning. Learn it for what it is, not what you wish it would be. Learn the phonetics.
  • Language is super practical. If you are not learning it practically you are missing it. Learn the language in it's contexts, especially the ones that you can enter and use it in.
  • Language takes time and practice. Find a compassionate, patient friend who is a native speaker. Usually someone who has gone through the struggle of language learning already will best understand what you are going through and what you need.  

LAST THING. After the first semester of Language school I came to the realization that I could understands someone's decision NOT to take on this challenge.
If your life can function in your native language, if you are not called to communicate directly with others of another language, if you are already half way through your life and don't want to take on another challenge and struggle that you will carry to your grave (most likely)... I can understand just not doing this. I mean there is a ton of good stuff, even if you don't ever master the language, you can make tons of new friends and learn lots of new stuff and understand things from a different perspective. But that doesn't mean that if you decide not to do it you are doing something wrong. I think most Americans understand this for themselves. They are happy with their English. BUT then they want to tell everyone else that they should just learn English too... like, spend the rest of your life learning MY language because then you can talk to me... lol!
Just saying, I'm not going to be pointing figures at people who are not going through what I'm going through, as much as I do love it, it is a lot of work!

Monday, August 7, 2017

My first selfie with a volcano! - (More photos from the trip here)

I know these last two posts are kind of in reverse order and that most of you already know this but...

I WENT to El Salvador!!!

It was a beautiful experience, very good for my Spanish. I saw beautiful places and was taken good care of be wonderful people.

 For the first part of the week I stayed of Julio Peña's father. I got a good breakfast in the morning and there was a volcano you could see from outside the front door!
I got to hike up that volcano! With Julio and some family friends we drove up as high as we could and then hiked the rest till we got to the crater... ...then I took a selfie with a volcano crater which was a first for me.

El Salvador seems to be pretty temperate with their whether. They have two seasons, not rainy and rainy. We were in the rainy season but it only rain once or twice during the week and was nice during almost every day. They don't really use air conditioners there from what I could see.

So the reason I was in El Salvador, one reason, was because my friend from RGBI, one of my tutors, was getting married! He had been away from his fiance all semester while at Bible college and now he was back to get married to his beautiful bride.

So in most Latino America there are usually two wedding ceremonies, one before the law which is called the civil wedding, and one before God and the church which is the religious wedding.

On the night of the civil wedding which was done by Julio uncle who was a lawyer we were driving around getting things done for the wedding and then all of a sudden I was told we were going to the wedding. How was this? I was in the back seat and its night time and I'm told were headed to the wedding all of a sudden? So I got one of my latino culture lessons right there and then got to witness it. It was pleasant and and less ceremonial but more lawyer-ish. Julio's father was there, his student friends from RGBI (me and two others), and a good friend of his come to be the official witness.

Afterwards we went out to celebrate by getting least I'm pretty sure it was that night. We went out for pupusas several different times and I never got any good pictures to show you what exactly they look like because I was always to busy eating them! Trust me, they are very yummy and you can find pupusarias or pupusa stands on almost every street in El Salvador.

So then came the wedding day! It was a great experience. It was at a very beautiful lakeside chapel that was surrounded by mountains on all sides. Before we got to the wedding though we had to pick up all the water for the wedding reception!
And the soda!
And the bread!

 Gabriela, Julio's bride, got ready in a little building near the chapel that had very nice window light and a nice big mirror.
She and here bridesmaids and flower girls were ready to go quite some time before the groom was ready actually.

 Julio, despite being late in getting ready for his own wedding, was a very calm and collected groom who was full of joy. "We will get married when the Lord wants us to get married my friend. It is a good day. We don't have to worry." he said to me when I mentioned that he was running late.
 I will mention now the two reasons he was running late. First he was the one organizing most of the details of the wedding. The reception chairs, tables, and decorations, different important family and guests of the wedding, and other things that he was going for and doing. He was busy all afternoon running around getting things done while I was wandering around taking pictures. I've seen grooms who were the ones taking charge of the wedding day before but none so cheerfully and un-anxiously as Julio.
 The other reason for him being late to be ready, and actually me too as I was with him, was that his shirt and suit (as well as my shirt and dress pants) were in a car (that we had used but was not his) that was locked and the key was in a rental van that had gone to the other side of the lake! That was quite a was a way and it took a while for the van to get back with the key so that we could get dressed.
Once we got our clothes though Julio quickly got dressed and was ready to go, unfazed and ready to meet his bride.

The wedding itself was so beautiful. And not just because of the location but also because of the brotherly love of Christ and the love for Christ that was shown. There were many interesting parts and some traditions that I had not seen before or had only heard of, but one thing I will mention is that during the time of blessing, when everyone extended their hands toward Julio and Gabby and prayed for them that the Lord would bless their lives and their marriage, during that time of prayer and song anyone that wanted to came forward and hugged or prayed for the couple there at the front right during the middle of the ceremony. It was very beautiful and was almost like a receiving line that we would have in the US after the wedding but instead it was during the wedding. It was a very beautiful sweet time.

 And then they were married! You can click on the link at the top to see a few more of the pictures that I didn't post here.
 The group photos were very very hectic and somewhat disorganized and scattered (I don't have my Spanish photog lingo down yet) but the backdrop was beautiful and the sun set behind the mountains at the far end of the lake.

Basically the was group pictures worked was whoever wanted a picture with the bride and groom jumped in when they saw a chance. So I jumped in for one as well! lol

 The reception hall was right up the hill and inside a big one pavilion that also had a from lawn overseeing the lake.

 We stayed that night at a hotel on the lake. We were put up very generously by one of the guest of the wedding who had an extra room. In the picture below you can see the chapel and the reception hall down closer to the water.

 Julio and Gabby did not go on their honeymoon right away. Instead they stayed and spent time with their out of town guests. Spent an extra day at the lake swimming and eating good food and enjoying time together.

 Julio continued to take good care of his guests even after the wedding (good thing for me!) A couple days latter one of the students of RGBI had his departing flight leaving from Guatemala, about a 4 or 5 hour drive I think. So we went and took him for his flight and then spent a day in ancient Guatemala!

 The last night I spent in El Salvador before I left I stayed at Julio and Gabby's new home. And then on the last day we went to the beach and I got to swim in the Pacific ocean for the first time (or at least for the first time on this side of it). I then went straight from the beach to the airport to catch my flight back to the US.
We in the US could definitely learn some lessons in hospitality and in putting others above our self from the latino culture and especially from this couple here. I was humbled by how willing they were to sacrifice their own comfort and convenience in order to take care of me and their other guests. And that hospitality that they showed was also extend by their family and friends in their willingness to gives rides and provide places in their homes to sleep to take us with them around El Salvador as part of their families. This is one part of the latino culture I don't want to miss and that I want to learn for myself.