|Xela Parque Central|
So, do I speak Spanish....? That question's not as simple to answer as it may seem. There are different levels of 'knowing' a language and a big step up from understanding everything to actually being able to speak it. Being the forever pessimist, I'd probably still not claim to be able to ´speak Spanish', but my level of comprehension and speaking ability has definitely improved a huge amount from where I was a month ago.
It can sometimes seem like the more I learn, the more complicated things get: there are so many rules (and just as many 'exceptions' to the rules), verbs (regular, irregular, reflexive, pronominal, reciprocal) and tenses (present, past perfect and imperfect, projections of the future, the actual future and others that I haven't even touched on yet) and each verb ending conjunction changes depending on the subject you are referring to and the tense you are speaking in. It's a lot to take in and more than enough to make your head spin at times. I sometimes look back with a hint of fondness to my language ignorance of last month, when I would happily spout nonsense in the wrong tense, with the wrong conjunction and using the wrong sentence structure - I was speaking complete nonsense but I was blissfully unaware - now I know when I'm getting it wrong, but I don't always remember how to get it right!
|Xela mountain overspill|
I realise this opening is not a particularly encouraging and positive critique of my new language abilities, so I'm now going to squeeze on my ill-fitting optimistic hat. There's no doubt that my knowledge of all aspects of the Spanish language has come on leaps and bounds in the last three weeks (in reality, a very short period of time). Looking back to the beginning of last month and comparing to now; my level of comprehension and speaking ability has improved beyond what I could have hoped for. Back then there is no way I would have been able to communicate in the manner I do now - approaching random locals in the street to begin an exchange in Spanish, chatting to strangers on the bus, asking for directions when I inevitably get lost on a solo day trip. There are some days when it's only when I get to bed that I realise I haven't spoken a word of English all day. I only need a couple of days like this and it can feel strange to encounter and converse with another English-speaking person. This is what is meant by real 'language immersion'!
|Yessica - mi maestra!|
|Mi casa (top left)|
|Santiago - bien vestido!|
|View from my room|
|Los libros para aprender|
Once you've mastered that, things go a bit more mental for the past tense - where, helpfully, both verbs are irregular again. 'Estar' becomes Estuve, Estuviste, Estuvo, Estuvimos and Estuvieron. For some reason 'Ser' becomes Fui, Fuiste, Fue, Fuimos and Fueron - which are exactly the same words used for the conjunctions of the verb 'to go' in the past tense. Oh, and did I mention that this is only one form of the past tense - the preterito tense: used to talk about things that only happened once, or at an exact time. If you want to talk more vaguely about something that happened frequently in the past, you need to use the imperfect forms of the two verbs - Estaba, Estabas, Estaba, Estabamos, Estaban (for 'Estar') and Era, Eras, Era, Eramos, Eran (for 'Ser').
|My desk and window|
Don't forget, this is just one verb (two variants) in the present and past tense. There are still at least two other sets of verb endings for the future tense and, of course, countless other verbs - with different endings for the different situations. This is what I mean by ignorance is bliss - it's great that I now know all this, but it's not always easy to work things out in my head quickly enough to have a proper conversation.
Another aspect of the language that can be difficult to get your head around, especially for a native English speaker, is the concept of masculine and feminine. This is alien to the British language, but a cornerstone of most other European dialects. Depending on the 'sex' of a word, you have to change the 'article' that goes before it (El or La, Un or Una), which changes again in the plural (Los or Las, Unos or Unas). Whether a subject is masculine of feminine can also affect other words in the sentence - adjectives, for example, which end in 'o' for masculine and 'a' for feminine. The most confusing thing is that there doesn't seem to be any logic behind whether a word is masculine or feminine - the day, for example, is masculine (El dia) but the night (La noche) is feminine - and there are always exceptions to the rule - the word Agua (water) is masculine in it's singular form (El agua) but feminine in the plural (Las aguas). Bonkers!
You also have to be careful how you use particular words. The word for 'hot' is 'caliente', however, if you say "Estoy caliente" that basically means you're horny. Instead you have to say "Tengo mucho calor", which literally translates as "I have much heat" (I think that actually sounds a lot dodgier, but oh well). Also, you use the verb 'Gustar' to say you like things and objects, but not people - because that means you like them in a 'strong' way. Instead there is the verb 'Caer bien' just for use in saying you like 'people'.
I realise that the above language lesson will have been incredibly boring for some of you - those who have no interest in Spanish and those who already know the language to a much higher level than myself - but this is just my attempt at a low-level explanation of some of the subtler nuances of the 'idioma'. I hope this gives a little insight into how I'm currently spending my days - a mixture of sitting dumbfounded with my head in my hands, but with increasingly regular moments of insight and realisation. It's the latter that really make it all worthwhile, and there's no better feeling than successfully partaking in any sort of Spanish conversation, with both parties fully understanding what is being said. I still have one more week of lessons left and, after that, at least another 7 months of opportunities to converse and learn more during my travels in Latin America. I'm getting there, slowly but surely, 'poco a poco'. As long as I keep it up, things can only get better and I've already improved astronomically from where I was at the start of this trip. Fluency is still a long way off, and I won't be applying for any translation jobs just yet, but every day I'm getting closer to feeling like I'll soon be able to say "¡Si, hablo Español muy bien!"
The focus of this blog has been purely on my Spanish learning exploits during my time in Guatemala so far and I haven't yet mentioned any other adventures during my first three weeks here - of which there have been many: volcanoes have been climbed, traditional villages visited and various other weird and wonderful experiences experienced. There's more than enough for a whole other blog - so I hope to publish another in the next week or so. Watch this space! :)
(more photos below - all photos can be clicked to enlarge!)
|El centro de Xela|
|A 'chicken bus' in full flow|
|Typical Xela shot|
|Another 'chicken bus' (repurposed American school buses)|
|My neighbourhood in Xela|
|Magaly, Raul & Annelle|
|Annelle & Santiago|
|Me & Santiago|
|My street in Xela - school on the left, house on the right|
|Me & Yessica|
|Me & Yessica - probably just after I've said something inappropriate|
|Flory & Yessica|
|Santiago enjoying his Frijoles (with "Kickey" for company)|