Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Working with the Spanish Language

El Carmen block party
At a block party in (El Carmen) Chincha, Perú

Learning Spanish is a Lifetime Effort

For many years I've been using my Spanish on the job, and even received bilingual pay. Unlike your average bilingual person at work, I'm not a native Spanish-speaker, nor did I have years of classroom training. I am self-taught out of a book and flash cards. Today, as an educational-vocational specialist with a social service agency, I conduct counseling sessions in Spanish and even taught a couple of job search workshops.

I listen to a lot of Spanish music, mostly salsa and bachata, some Afro-Cuban, some Afro-Peruvian, and sing along when I can.

In prior job searches, I've been interviewed in both English and Spanish. I'll never forget the day, I was interviewed for a position with a prominent San Francisco vocational service. The department manager was impressed that my résumé mentioned my Spanish language experience. When I returned for a second interview, there were two (not one, but two) native Spanish-speakers waiting for me in the interview room. I told them, in Spanish, that I speak better Spanish with those who cannot speak English, and added that bilingual people make me so nervous to the point that I forget simple words. They were so pleased that my response had such a good accent with proper grammar that they let me off the hook and conducted the rest of the interview was in English.

When I returned for a second interview, there were two (not one, but two) native Spanish-speakers waiting for me in the interview room.

Each year, I spend my vacations (three weeks at a time) in one or more Latin-American countries; mostly in Perú, my home away from home. My primary reason for Latin-American travel, other than exposing myself to black culture, is to be totally immersed in the Spanish language so I can get better at it. Although I'm far from fluent. I'm still learning. In fact, the more Spanish I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I'm a subscriber to Transparent Language and where I get daily e-mails containing the word-of-the-day and have found them very helpful. In addition, I listen to a lot of Spanish music, mostly salsa and bachata, some Afro-Cuban, some Afro-Peruvian, and sing along when I can.

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  1. Great Post! There's no substitute for learning a language than actually going to the place where it's spoken. I started formally studying Spanish when I was in high school. I quickly realized I wasn't going to learn anything if I just left it up to the public educational system in the states. Thankfully, I was in a city (Atlanta) that had local newspapers in Spanish, radio stations, TV stations, and, more importantly, Spanish-speakers. I was in a position to always be practicing outside of class. When I entered college, I tested into upper level Spanish courses, so I took a few there. After I finished undergrad, I started working teaching English (and occasionally Spanish to gringos) classes at a Latin American community center in the city. It wasn't until after I went back to school and got a Masters that I started to travel. The time I've spent in Latin America has helped me immensely. I've always listened to Spanish language music which is great for vocab and expressions. I've been in Perú for a while now. The Spanish here is said to be quite clear and well-pronounced... a good place for people learning Spanish. The slang is out of control in Perú, though, (similar to Cockney Rhyming Slang at times)

    Also, to answer your questions. I have considered writing a blog before. I have a lot of things I write down and have saved to my compu, but haven't made the transition to cyberspace

  2. I'm surprised to know that Atlanta had a large enough Latino population to have Spanish media. But anyway, I found the best people with whom to practice your Spanish are with those who can't speak English. The bilingual ones want to get cute and respond in English.

    If you think the Spanish in Perú is clear, you got some very good ears. To me they speak faster than the Cubans. Maybe Arequipa is different.

  3. They say that Arequipeños sing when they talk and I'd definitely agree. The intonation goes up and down. People in AQP say that people from Lima talk extremely fast. I haven't spent an extended time in Lima so I'm not used to the way of speaking there. Overall, I'd say people, at least in this city, speak pretty clearly. Of course there are exceptions, such as people who mumble. People in Perú definitely abuse the diminutive! (tardecita, kilito, popcorncito, solcito, permicito, are all words I've heard people use here).

    The ones who can't speak English do tend to be the best conversation partners. The landlady at the building where I live, despite renting apts to many foreigners, doesn't speak any English. Some people here do want to practice English with native speakers when they have the opportunity, but some don't care, and they use Spanish. I'm definitely open to practicing English with anyone that wants to. Good for them for taking advantage of an opportunity to improve their English. I wouldn't want to be in a situation, though, where EVERYONE tried/wanted to talk me in English because that's not helpful for me. It seems to be a mix here in AQP. Touristy places will most def have English speaking employees. Some Europeans/North Americans come here with a very low level of Spanish, so it's good for them to be able to get service in English. As you get out of the center, English is less accessible.

    You'd be surprised, Atlanta has a pretty decent Latino population, mainly Mexicans. There are various communities around town where you'll hear Spanish (or Spanglish). There are also a few public schools that have majority Latino populations. On local TV there is an Univisión affiliate, in fact. That's a Spanish-language newspaper, Mundo Hispanico, that's owned by the major English language newspaper in the city (AJC). It's a really good city to study Spanish in because there are so many Spanish speakers.


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