Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Albondigas -- no te dije?
Photo via Flickr
In the 1950's, ALM -- the Audio Lingual Method -- was a popular theory of language instruction. Despite the fact that it was "discredited" by linguists like Noam Chomsky as early as 1959, it was still the method of choice at Slidell High School when I was a student there in the 1970's. My quest to learn Spanish began in 9th grade by memorizing a dialog I still remember today:
Hola, Isabel, como estas?
Estoy bien, gracias, y tu?
Bien gracias. Oye, quien es ese chico?
Es un amigo mio.
Como se llama?
Se llama Juan. Ven y te lo presento.
This was accomplished by Mrs. S presenting bits of phrases for us to repeat over and over the first week of class. We were not given a book nor allowed to see any of this in writing. The second week, we threaded the phrases into still-unintelligible sentences. The third week we repeated these sentences in unison with an LP that played through our antiquated headphones. If all this wasn't funny enough, the headphones were not synchronized, and some were off by as much as five seconds, resulting in mayhem dressed up in very bad Spanish accents.
One of the dialogs we memorized those first weeks took place in a school cafeteria and had one student declare to another, "Albondigas! No te dije?" Even then, we all knew that there would never come a time when we would have occasion to say, "Meatballs! Didn't I tell you?" It soon became a secret shorthand outside of class. Whenever an adult did something we thought silly or asinine, one of us would shake our heads sadly and sigh, "Albondigas! No te dije?" and the rest of us would laugh our heads off. This continued until a new student from Puerto Rico smirkingly informed us that we were screaming out a word that was slang for "testicles" in Spanish!
Before ALM, I'd always liked hearing foreign languages and often listened to Spanish and French language radio shows or broadcasts of Saturday evening mass in Latin. I even thought I wanted to major in languages in college and become a language professor, so you can imagine my dismay with the Spanish language. I couldn't understand why I hated it so much. If this was what majoring in a foreign language would be like, I wasn't having any of it. I decided I'd major in English Lit and become a writer instead. It wasn't until I became obsessed with Italy and all things Italian a few years later that I overcame my language phobia and changed my major to Comp Lit, but since then, my reading skills have always far surpassed my speaking skills whenever I've studied a language.
Last summer, people told me not to bother learning Spanish before I went to Mexico because if I spoke Italian, everyone would understand me. So I stumbled along and, thanks to the good will of the people I encountered, I was able to function on a very basic level. This summer, I'd like to do better, so I'm listening to CD's, watching Spanish-language tv, and taping notecards labeling everyday objects all over my house. But because I watch the news in Italian every night and follow several telenovellas, I'm now thoroughly confused with vocabulary. And to make matters worse, the few words I remember from high school are Castilian Spanish. I had a conversation with a Spanish-speaking friend today, and my end of it was an odd gibberish of half Spanish, half Italian. I said pee-shee-na but corrected myself to pee-see-na only to be told that in Mexico, a swimming pool is "alberca" anyway.