Monday, January 7, 2013


I wrote a post several years ago about learning the vocabulary of sailing. It would be a stretch to claim fluency in the language of the sea, conversational would be more accurate. I am fluent, touching on expert even, in the dialect of aviation. And I muddle through English ... so long as you don't check my spelling too closely.

In an effort to keep my brain from freezing up completely as it gets older and less pliable, and with an eye of maybe sailing to foreign shores where butched up, shop floor English is not the national tongue, I decided to try and learn a second language. Deb spent some of her growing up years in Chile and was fluent in Spanish once upon a time. She has always wanted to get it back. Daughter Eldest speaks Spanish, and German, and reads Latin. Daughter Middle speaks some Spanish as well, and reads Greek and Latin. (If you haven't figured it out by now everyone in my family is smarter than I am - something in which I am inordinately proud.) Some of the places we might want to sail to have Spanish as the native tongue. Places like southern Florida or the Texican Coast. I even heard there is a country in the Med where nearly everyone speaks Spanish and who knows? We might decide to sail to the Med some day.

Spanish it is.

We bought this 16 CD set called the Pimsleur Approach (Gold Edition no less). Thirty lessons and I have been through them all. I am going through them again now, and when I get to the end I'm going to get what ever it is that comes after the Gold Edition. There is a Spanish Club that meets within walking distance of the house, one of the advantages to living near a major University. I watch Spanish TV on line. (The people in the club suggested Spanish Soap Operas - the acting is so over-the-top that one can take a pretty good guess at what it being said even if not a single word makes sense. An added bonus - Spanish actresses are cute!) There are three different on-line Spanish teaching web sights in the "favorites" bar on this computer, readily available for my never ending confusion.

I can fly jets. I can fix jets. Nothing has ever pummeled my brain as much as trying to squeeze another whole set of language rules and several thousand new words into it. And I gotta tell 'ya, whomever it was that claimed English is the hard language to learn must have taken a pass on Spanish. Not content with words about the sexes, those who invented Spanish decided the words themselves should have sexes. Then, words associated with those words need to be of the same sex, or else you sound like a Spanish rube. (Multiple words of the same sex cavorting around in one sentence? Is that what has some of our political types all wadded up?) Plural words? Same story.

Word has it becoming truly fluent in any language requires total immersion, speaking the lingo every day on the street, listening to multiple voices, learning the context, absorbing the culture. I hope to be a sailor one of these days and there are a lot of Spanish speaking places where cruisers go to hide from hurricanes and do boat work. Maybe I'll have the chance? But even if I never get to the point of thinking in Spanish without, well, thinking about it; the effort of learning to speak using different rules and new words has become a source of real joy.

To all those who actually can speak more than one language ... I am hugely jealous ... and good on you. Oh, and anyone who is thinking of trying to join the club of the bi-(or better) lingual, you could do worse than giving the Pimsleur folks a try. Back in High School I flunked out of two languages in less then one semester. (Not English, I flunked out of English class in a different semester.) Yet I can now say with complete honesty,

"Hablo un poco de espaƱol, y entiendo un poco, si habla despacio."


Robert Salnick said...

Good on you!

But beware...

I had 12 years of Spanish education, beginning with 7th grade and ending as a college senior. And now I struggle with it.

You use it or you lose it...

(And oh yeah, there is nothing like being in situation where you must make yourself understood to help yourself learn a language. Immersion in a situation where cheating is impossible will drive you hard)


Robert Salnick said...

Wait - that's 10 years.

Deb said...

It is true about using it. I spent a fair amount of my childhood in Chile and was fluent enough that my mom took me to the market with her to translate but when we came back to the US there was no Spanish in school till 9th grade. I still have an excellent accent, but the fluency is gone. We found this Spanish language group on and it's been very helpful. There are several native speakers that attend to help the rest of us. Last night they made us play Apples to Apples in Spanish and it was a hoot. A frustrating hoot, but a hoot nonetheless.

Unknown said...

Ahoy! Just saw your blog listed on Sail Far Live Free's list of best blogs for 2012 and thought I'd check you out.

I have been building an online library of marina maps to help boaters when they have to enter unfamiliar marinas. It might be of use to you on your travels and you can access it (for free!) at

Fair Winds!

Mike M. said...

That's great about learning languages! I was 'fortunate enough' that my third high school offered Japanese as a foreign language option. Yes, I went to three different high schools in four years. We moved so much, I sometimes thought my parents were fugitives running from the law.

Anyway, back on topic...I took Japanese my senior year of HS and then continued it my freshman year of college. I got to the point where I could read a fair amount of it and hold my own in conversations, but it's right about use it or lose it..I can barely remember anything now.

Something even more interesting, however, is that my seventeen year old son has a gift of language ability. He's fluent in Spanish (having taken it since kindergarten), and he taught himself Russian. His primary motivation for that, I think, was the fact that his girlfriend is from Russia. He can read, write and understand spoken Russian and can speak about 60%. He's already decided he wants to join the US Air Force and be a linguist.

Sorry for the long post; just a proud dad! :-)


Deb said...

Mike I believe your son is fluent and has language ability because he was obviously in a school district where they understood the necessity of learning language at an early age. Kindergarten is the perfect time to introduce a second language. My brother and daughter both have that language knack and are fluent in multiple languages.

Proud dads are a great thing by the way.