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.

Albondigas, dammit!

14 comments:

  1. Oh man, I remember those albondigas from helping my sister practice her Spanish in high school.

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  2. Yep, I think they still memorize the same dialogs I memorized 35 years ago!

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  3. My favorite line was later on in the series... "Cuanto más me negaban, más golpes me daban" - The more I'd refuse, the more blows they would give me.

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  4. Oh, fun to find this. I still remember the first part of the dialogs. Let's see how close I can get:

    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.

    Juan, quiero presentarte a una amiga.
    Mucho gusto.
    El gusto es mío, soy Juan Martinez.
    A donde vas ahora, Juan?
    A la clase de Español.
    Ah, tu estudias Español. Nosotros tambien.
    Bueno, vamos a clase.

    Caramba, se me olvidó mi cuaderno.

    Well, ... that's about all I remember. Can anyone take it further? But, it's pretty amazing to think we still remember this much after nearly 50 years! I remember that better than things I studied this morning.

    About a year and a half ago I decided to re-learn the spanish I learned in high school and move on from there. Have been having a great time with the Pimsleur tapes, notesinspanish.com, memrise.com, and various books and podcasts.

    Funny, I didn't remember the "albondigas" line, but I sure knew what "albondigas" meant (not the slang version :) so we probably got that far.

    Best, Wynette thenette.com

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    1. Caramba, se me olvido mi cuaderno.

      No importa. Yo tengo papel.

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    2. Caramba, se me olvido mi cuaderno.

      No importa. Yo tengo papel.

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    3. Caramba, se me olvido el cuaderno...was actually a line from the second dialog entitled "EN LA BIBLIOTECA" (IN THE LIBRARY)

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    4. I'll try it..from memory..dont know about the spelling though.

      EN LA BIBLIOTECA

      Oye..donde queda la biblioteca?
      Alli delante, Vas ahora mismo?
      Si, tengo que buscar un libro
      Voy contigo..tengo que leer el periodico
      Caramba! Se me olvido el cuaderno.
      No importa. Yo tengo papel.

      Chico, donde estan las novelas?
      Estan alli, te espero en aquella mesa.
      Pero, hay dos chicas alli.
      Que? Te pareca mal?
      Hombre, si la morena es amiga de mi hermano.
      Tanto mejor, te guardare una silla.

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    5. So I worked in a gas station sometime during high school, and all I knew of the language was what I learned through ALM in 7th and 8th grade. A family came through in an old ford station wagon one day. It was running very rough and I could see they were worried. They only spoke spanish and I only spoke English and ALM. I opened the hood and saw immediately that there was a problem with the carburetor. I pointed at it and said, assertively:
      "El tocadiscos es descompuesto"
      They laughed, I tweaked out the carb and sent them along.
      I've never had Albondigas, but tonight my girlfriend and I are planning it for dinner. "no te dije" I had to add it when she suggested it.

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    6. So I worked in a gas station sometime during high school, and all I knew of the language was what I learned through ALM in 7th and 8th grade. A family came through in an old ford station wagon one day. It was running very rough and I could see they were worried. They only spoke spanish and I only spoke English and ALM. I opened the hood and saw immediately that there was a problem with the carburetor. I pointed at it and said, assertively:
      "El tocadiscos es descompuesto"
      They laughed, I tweaked out the carb and sent them along.
      I've never had Albondigas, but tonight my girlfriend and I are planning it for dinner. "no te dije" I had to add it when she suggested it.

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  5. Ermagerd I still have these burned into my brain.

    I took Spanish from fifth grade through sophomore year of college and never "learned" the language- but always got good grades because I wrote well in English and just translated word for word. The triumph was a higher-level Spanish lit class at Cornell in 1979. The class was mostly Latino engineering students taking it as their gut liberal arts course, and they wrote fluent technical manuals. I wrote my papers in English, translated them, and did better than they did.

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  6. Of course most of us on Spring break often asked the pressing question- ¿Donde eta la biblioteca? But the sentence I remember repeating often in my Spanish class that matches "Albondigas" was- El burro esta muy perezoso. Ah , yes. Always a conversation starter when ever you are in a Spanish speaking country. Well, I have to go fix my sisters' broken record player. Hasta la próxima.

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  7. I had the ALM Spanish I in Baton Rouge in 1969? with Señora Lavite. I've never forgotten the first dialogue.

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  8. I just returned from a trip to Spain. Bits and pieces of these dialogs, learned long ago, were quite useful. If one of our travelers went missing, I'd say Se escapado _____. (from the dialog about the cat that escaped). Or in meeting someone, I'd say - el gusto es mio (from the dialog about greetings). And from the lunch dialog, I'd often say - la ahora it's lunchtime). But I never, ever, had a need to say "Donde esta la biblioteca". Much fun.

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