New language, sans Google Translate

Forgive me. I’m going to beat my own drum a bit …feeling pretty chuffed with myself!

See, I recently read a very interesting article. It was about a museum located inside a school in Chile, which is largely curated by students who attend the school. So what, you ask? Well, the article was in SPANISH.  And I don’t speak Spanish…or, to be more accurate, I didn’t know any Spanish until I started learning a couple of months ago.

I have been toying with the idea of learning the language for a while – largely because my bucket list includes quite a number of Spanish speaking countries.  However, I’ve never really committed to study until, sometime towards the end of February, a friend introduced me to a great little app called Duolingo.  Since then I’ve been spending 20-30 minutes each day – usually on the train or just before bed – working through the app and other materials online. No courses, no expensive resources, just quietly flying solo.

Admittedly, my knowledge of Spanish really only extends to being able to get the broad gist of written text. Although I DID manage the entire article this week without needing to resort to Google Translate (hence my present excitement and the drum beating thing), I get that it’s going to take considerably more effort and time to grasp the beautiful nuances of meaning and expression that only come with fluency. Still, it’s such a great feeling to see progress – I am totally encouraged to carry on.

Of course, learning a different language is not exactly a novelty for me, and I must admit that my current experience has lead me to reminisce back to that other time I was learning new words. That journey was far less pleasant.

I had arrived in New Zealand three days short of my eleventh birthday, armed with a scant handful of English phrases – thank you, sorry, one, two, three…ten;  none of them particularly helpful, once I found myself in a school full of teachers and kids who knew even less Polish than I knew English. It was very much a case of sink or swim, and, in my case, the ‘swimming’ looked like a kind of desperate cross between Dramatic Charades and Pictionary. I will leave it to you to imagine the entertainment surrounding my attempts to communicate ‘I need to go to the toilet’ on my first day at school.

I had a cousin living in England back then. Guessing we had little in terms of possessions, she sent me several copies of her Famous Five books. I remember looking through them longingly. (If you read my earlier post, Falling in love with maps, you’ll know that I was a dash book starved at the time). With not much else to do, I did the only thing I could: I grabbed the dictionary and started translating the first of the books, word by word.  It was a painful, slow process. A major stumbling block appeared when I came across one of the protagonists, George. Inexplicably, Enid Blyton regularly substituted George’s name with the female pronoun, ‘she’. Believe me when I say this was TOTALLY confounding, as I was damn well sure that George was a boy’s name! My tattered dictionary failed to point out that George was in fact a tomboy, originally christened with a considerably more feminine moniker of Georgina.  Nevertheless, by the time I got to the end of the book, I had George well and truly sorted, and I had no more need for charades at school.

In retrospect, my experience of learning English formed a lifelong lesson on perseverance, self-sufficiency and how big achievements can happen through small, achievable steps. I am certainly benefiting from those lessons now, in learning Spanish and beyond. Still, I must say that being eleven was a pretty tough time for me.

…Boy, how I would have loved to have had access to Duolingo and Google Translate back then!

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2 Responses to New language, sans Google Translate

  1. Haidee says:

    Apps and google and the internet in General have certainly made things easier in many respects! It’s probably made us a bit lazy too, you can imagine the amount of excerpts that must be taken from the internet and pasted into teenagers assignments these days!


  2. Writilin says:

    Haha, yes, Haidee. I couldn’t agree more! Although teaching institutions – the ones that can afford it – are getting smarter with regards to these things, too. There are programs such as Turnitin, which allow for assignments to be lodged on line, and can automatically detect those extracts in the assessment which were simply cut and pasted from some website. They are pretty cool.


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