Friday, September 26, 2008

vale la pena

"Vale la pena" translates roughly as "it's worth the effort." Such has been the first few weeks of language school.

I love learning a new language. Every aspect of it fascinates me - from the tiny details of phonetics such as the position of your teeth and tongue, whether a sound is formed by short bursts of air or drawn out over time, words like "dipthong" and "bilabial" and "trill" - to grammatical structure, verb tenses and moods, idioms, and expressions. I'm enjoying it. It amazes me how detailed we can go into something that comes naturally to kids learning to speak. And honestly, all these interesting terms are largely unhelpful during conversation, when my mouth moves and sounds come out and I hope to goodness that the ideas I'm thinking are making sense when they're vocalized.

The thrill of phoneticsI hope this diagram helps you visualize the tremendous thrill of language learning.
Now you know what a bilabial plosive looks like.


Fun is the word to describe parts of the process. Frustrating would be a light word to describe other parts of it. Our language classes are almost entirely in Spanish. Several days a week I come home in the afternoon utterly exhausted with a throbbing headache. A few days ago my host father explained to me his fascination with the topic of "predestinación" and "elección." Lots of specialized terms translate back and forth quite simply, but explaining the ideas and beliefs behind those terms is completely impossible for me with my limited Spanish. Not that in English I could do much better. So the extent of my ability to express my theology is pretty limited to "Jesus loves me this I know." That may be able to hold me over for a while, though.

This is the Ruedas family, who've been kind enough to take me in for a few months while I'm learning Spanish.
Jonathan's on the left - Carlos - Jeanette - Irma - and the gringo is me.


Fortunately I haven't suffered many of the language blunders some of my friends have. I didn't go to the front of the church during an altar call for unwed mothers. I didn't tell anyone I was "embarazado" (which DOESN'T mean "embarrased" - it means pregnant). I did tell my host-family how much I enjoyed eating "lawyers" when I meant "avocados." There are numerous other blunders well-meaning language learners have made here, but in order to keep this entry's G rating I can't really share them.

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I love the different words for "rain." Today, by the way, we had a rather strong downpour so intense it hailed ice. Yes, ice. But there are several words for rain.
  • "Pelo de gato" is one of my favorites. It means "cat fur" and it describes the light gentle rain that brushes your skin like cat fur.
  • "Agua cero" is another one. It means a heavy downpour, I'd like to think it describes huge "zero-shaped" raindrops.
  • "chaparon" is another word for a sudden downpour. No one has explained this to me, but I'd like to think it's like a "chaparone" that pops up quickly and checks on you, and then disappears as quickly as it came.
Another great word, unrelated to rain, is the word for the guards that sit in little booths protecting the neighborhoods. They're called a "watchyman." Pretty self-explanatory.

Speaking of rain again, since I'm on a role here just writing stream-of-consciousness, please remember Haiti especially in your prayers as it has suffered severely from the recent hurricanes. Reports tell of well over 500 deaths and severe flooding in many of the lower parts of the country. It got hit by several hurricanes separately, actually, but the flooding creates an ongoing problem that's knocked out what little infrastructure was already in place. Other areas were affected as well - Jamaica, Cuba, and parts of Texas. One of my MAF coworkers here in Costa Rica showed me photos of some of Haiti's airstrips that are completely underwater. Some of the strips are still able to be used, though, so MAF has been helping with some relief efforts there. Channel 7 news in Nampa, Idaho did a short video report on their involvement if you would like to know more.

1 comment:

David said...

Brendan, one of my ESL students made the same mistake re: embarazado going from Spanish to English.

Love the rain words. In Creole the equivilant to "cat fur" rain is "farine". It is a verb that says it's "flouring", as in wheat flour. A light powdery rain?