Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spanish Learning Chapter One

learn to speak spanishI remain convinced the primary reason why so many Americans are attracted to Mexico is in the Gringolandias, or Gringo Expat Enclaves, they will never be faced with what seems to be the overwhelming task of learning Spanish. The British, I am told, do the same thing in the south of France. An intricate and well-organized expat infrastructure awaits the would-be retiree and alleviates the fear of having to master the language. Everything is organized around the monolingual Gringo and negates any need whatsoever to learn Spanish.

Whether this is a good or bad thing is not within the scope of this series, "Begin By Listening." I think the point is, and most of my readers would agree, if I am going to gripe and complain why something called a "Gringolandia" should even exist, then I should provide an answer or solution instead of criticizing all the time. I have been writing for years about how to go about overcoming the fear of learning Spanish. However, it wouldn't hurt to go over it again, perhaps in a new and different light.

Two important advantages of learning Spanish, if you plan to retire to Mexico, are:

You could significantly increase your social standing and sense of community if you were able to socialize with more than the other gringos in the Gringolandias. In Southeast Asia, the locals used to call this phenomenon "Social Incest." The Americans, mostly those in the Foreign Service, would live in American enclaves and only socialize with one another. Their ability to mix with the locals was non-existent because they didn't know the languages. Unlike their then cold-war counterparts, the Russians, the American Foreign Service workers were then, as they are today, not required to have any language fluency nor develop it on site. The Russians arrived on site with bilingual and bicultural fluency. Fluency before arriving in the country-imagine!

Without the language, your social involvement is severely limited to only those who speak English. That can and should change, in my view.

The other reason is that in the Gringolandias, the real estate for residential housing can cost much more than in your ordinary, run-of-the-mill Mexican neighborhoods. Not always is this true, but you will have an ability to ferret these deals out if you are bilingual.

The place most worth considering where instruction in how to learn a second language abounds just might surprise you. Africa is the place where more people are multilingual than anywhere else in the world. Thousands of her people speak multiple dialects, different languages in which they conduct all manner of business, multiple native tribal languages, and colonial languages. These Africans have done so without the availability of a classroom, textbooks, workbooks, CD's or cassette recordings, or teachers. And yet, they learn these languages with what would seem to us an almost uncanny ease.

In almost every case, it was a work situation in which these folks acquired their new languages. They left their hearth and home to go to another village or city where there was a work opportunity. They found some sort of job and began working with others who spoke another language. The newcomers did not enroll in a language course. They just worked side by side with the people who spoke the new language. They listened. That's all. They just listened. Before long, they began to understand what was being said. Little by little, the confusing chatter became clear. Then came small steps in production in the new language. They lived in the environment in which the living language thrived (immersion). Soon production in the new language emerged. It seems these people learned the new language effortlessly.

Some critics will point out that adults are not children and therefore an approach to second language acquisition should not be given such a simple example for adults as "passive listening." And yet, languages are absorbed, assimilated, or acquired by people who are unable to afford expensive language courses using the African method. We met many bilingual Mexicans in the resort areas of Mexico who learned their English in the exact same way as in the African example I've explained above.

The way in which children learn their native tongue is the same way poor, third-world people (adults) learn scores of different languages. Need drives them to do what is necessary to learn the language in which they will be more successful in making a living. They do not worry about verbs, direct object pronouns, syntax, tenses, or moods. They just listen.

They listen to the language being spoken in the context of seeing the language being acted out by the native speakers. They listen, repeat, and make visual associations with what they are hearing. Soon, they begin to mimic, produce, and put together sentences in simple, feeble, and often error-filled combinations.

The African way of second language acquisition is THE WAY in which we all learned our native tongue and still is THE WAY in which we acquire a new language.

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