This is my brain after Spanish class. I have heard that, if one learns multiple languages as a young child, they are all “deposited” in the same region of the brain, making translation and multilingual conversation much easier, almost natural. If, however, one learns a new language as an adult, the brain must carve out entirely new pathways, separate from your native tongue. This would explain, among other things, why, when I have been speaking Spanish for a while, I will often not be able to retrieve the most basic of English words in order to ask for a translation.
I just spent four hours learning how much Spanish I have forgotten. Part of the difficulty I experience in learning a foreign language stems from the fact that I was never taught grammar in the kind of detail they use in my classes. I learned, as do most people, to speak by osmosis, by hearing my language and using it. I learned more complex sentence structure, usage, and grammar by reading, lots of reading. If you ask me to translate “I would have said that” into Spanish, I have no problem coming up with “Lo habria dicho”, but if you ask me to say something in the pluscuamperfecto using the verb “decir”, I am lost.
My best teachers have understood and accommodated my idiosyncrasy. Others, including the one I have now, have learned one way to teach, and are not comfortable enough with English to modify that method.
I’ve already done it my way, so, over the next 3 1/2 weeks, I’m going to try theirs. On the good side, I got 70% right on my evaluation. On the bad side, I got 30% wrong.
A few years ago, I tried to learn to tango, so as to be able to dance with my then wife, Jane. I took eight lessons, one hour a week. It felt like learning a new language. Dance in general (I speak as a non-dancer here) and tango in particular is about communication between two people. One must learn the vocabulary (steps), grammar (the various ways of connecting the steps), and then one must learn how one’s partner uses the language (nuances of movement, slang, idioms) in order to communicate (dance) fluently, fluidly, and effectively.
The eight one hour classes I took were the equivalent of two days here at four hours a day. When I first began studying Spanish, it was three weeks of intensive classes before I was comfortable in the present tense alone, and nine before I achieved relative proficiency across the spectrum. So you can see that eight hours was a decidedly inadequate length of time to learn the language of tango.
I have recently grown close to a remarkable and wonderful woman. When asked, I often say that “we are dancing around the idea of a relationship”. I love the sound of this phrase, and the way it describes without defining our tango of affection. In essence, we are learning each other’s language, refining the steps of our dance, open to whatever it might become and wherever it might lead.