May 28, 2010 | Spanish
Definite Articles, Flashcards, and Soccer
From grammar books to parks, some Spanish encounters.
I went to another 5K race last night, this time in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Normally I wouldn’t race two nights in a row, but I love this particular summer series, so I went anyway.
On the #1 train on the way up, I noticed a man, maybe Mexican, wearing a T-shirt with the word “Cuernavaca” on it. Cuernavaca is a city in the state of Morelos in Mexico. My grandparents lived in Cuernavaca for many years, and I used to visit them there as a kid.
I considered speaking to the man in Spanish, but I was listening to pre-race music—it changes from race to race; this time it was Marvin Gaye and Dr. Hook—and I really wanted to get into race mode rather than Spanish-studying mode. So my Spanish interests were sacrificed to running.
It was worth it. I had my best race in years, a romantic, rainy run up and down hills through the woods. I came in first in my age group.
My prize: a freshly baked muffin.
I studied Spanish flashcards on the train on the way home, and later at night for a couple of hours before bed, and again today.
I am really enjoying the flashcards, because I am now remembering an overwhelming majority of them, which is inherently more enjoyable than drawing a blank with each new card. There are two boxes, so that’s 2,000 words.
At Café Margot this afternoon I did some work in a book called Practising Spanish Grammar: A Workbook by Christopher Pountain, Teresa de Carlos, and Angela Howkins.
I first looked at this book back in the beginning of April, but it was too hard for me then. It was meant to accompany a textbook I didn’t have, and I really needed the explanations at that point. So, after getting nine out of 20 questions wrong in the very first exercise—which involved coming up with the correct definite articles for nouns such as piel (skin), muchedumbre (crowd), and hipótesis (I think that one’s obvious)—I set it aside for some weeks and moved on to other books.
Today I returned to the same book and exercise and got four wrong. Not a brilliant performance, but 80% is a lot better than 55%. I did some other exercises as well, and evidence suggested I had in fact learned something in the past eight weeks.
However, I can’t help noticing that this particular book is still quite difficult for me. Based on the spelling of “practising” in the title, I assume the book was published for a UK rather than a U.S. audience. Which made me wonder: are language books typically more challenging in other countries than in the U.S.? Because this book is way more advanced than anything I could find at Barnes & Noble.
For a break tonight, Brandt and I went for a walk in Central Park. There weren’t many people there, partly because it was a little chilly and partly because it is Memorial Day weekend.
As we were roaming around the park, we walked by a group of guys, a few of whom were kicking around a soccer ball while others spoke animatedly in Spanish.
In my Spanish-news reading and watching, there has been a lot of coverage of the World Cup. As far as I can remember, I have kicked a soccer ball only once in my entire life, and I have never watched more than a few minutes of a soccer game on TV, but I am being offered an editorial diet rich in stories about players, coaches, and teams from around the world.
I think a soccer lesson would come in handy. Usually it is hard for me to be very interested in a sport I have never played.
However: earlier today on Univision, on a Spanish-language morning show called ¡Despierta América! (Wake up, America!), there was a multiple-choice World Cup-related question, about who had been the youngest coach ever. I got it right: Juan José Tramutola. Brandt said, “That was entirely chance, right?”
Who’s to say for sure what is chance?