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Thursday, September 28, 2006

My vocabulary, and Textbooks.

I sometimes find myself saying random words in English, in the middle of my talking in Spanish.  It's a weird accidental automatic response.  It doesn't happen when I'm trying to say big words or hard words or words I don't know.  It happens most often for little words that I say all the time and that I know just as well in Spanish as I know in English.  Words like "so" or "or" or "now".  I will have spoken, said something that probably made a lot more sense in my head than it did out loud, and I'll realize that I said some little nearly insignificant word in English.

I also find myself oddly not self-conscious when I'm talking in Spanish.  When I am at school, in the US, I am always, always self-conscious when I talk in Spanish.  I feel like everyone is judging me for my bad grammar and my probably incorrect use of key words. When I'm talking in Spanish here though, I know I sound strange.  I sound strange, I look different, and I'm this weird anomaly in the school.  In one school (each department has its own school, scattered throughout the city) I am the only foreign student.  In the other, I am one of two.  I stand out.  When I speak, I sound like someone with a flimsy grasp of the grammar, and the vocabulary of an oddly academic 4-year-old.  There are endless amounts of basic vocabulary that I don't know, yet at the same time, I can attempt to talk as an academic college student, and I have quite a bit of vocabulary to do that.

Following that train of thought, a lot of the things I read here for school are translated from US English.  This means two things: 

1) The sentence structure and the way of writing, though translated into Spanish, still very much carry a US English feeling.  I can read texts/articles that are translated from US English without a dictionary, and without any trouble.

2) They talk about the US and North America in all of these texts.  They talk about cultural events/phenomena/people from the US.  This seems odd to me, in a way.  These texts are used throughout Latin America, countries very, very different than the US.  And yet, the people reading the books are forced to see things from a US perspective.  They are forced to understand US cultural quirks and be aware of many US cultural issues.  At least, they must do so if they want to understand their textbooks.

In the US, in my education classes, we always talk about the importance of making the texts the students read important to the students.  It's important to introduce the students to various cultures, but to also allow them to see the value and importance of their own cultural backgrounds.  I get excited when I read about things that are familiar to me in these texts, but I'm thinking that the Mexican students here probably don't have that same reaction.  I guess the fact that the US is so present in their text books only mimics the presence of US TV shows, movies, food chains, clothing brands, and English slogans on clothes and notebooks.  But at the same time, there also are Mexican TV shows, food chains, and clothing brands.  They have an option when it comes to those things.  For their academics though, they are forced to study using materials that focus on a country very different from their own in so many ways.  They aren't able to learn using examples from their own country and their own cultures.  I just wonder how that affects things here.  I wonder how it would be different if there were more textbooks written by people of the country for people of the country.  In some of the things I have read, they don't even change phrases such as "In our country…" to "In the US…"  It just remains as "In our country…" but in Spanish.  And that's feels strange to me.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Where am I again?

Sometimes, I forget that I'm in Mexico, that I'm in a Spanish speaking country.  It's strange and I don't quite understand how it happens, but it does, a lot.  I'll be walking down the street, spacing out, singing a song in my head or replaying the days' events, and I'll hear someone talking in Spanish.  And then it'll hit me again.  Hey! I'm in a Spanish-speaking country right now.

This happens on a daily basis.  I'll be doing nothing, sitting in the library at my school, sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for the bus, whatever.  I know I'm in Mexico, I can see it, I can smell it, I can hear it all the time.  But then I'll notice someone talking, after not having heard anyone talk for a minute or so, and it'll be in Spanish, and I'll get surprised all over again.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Thinks I have noticed about myself.

Things about not really knowing the language all the way:

- I lied on a form.  It asked what my father did and I said he worked in business.  He works in sales.  I know how to say business in Spanish, I don't know how to say sales.

Note to teacher-self: Sometimes students may tell half-truths based on what they know how to say.  They aren't actively trying to deceive you, they are just using the language they know.

- I sometimes kind of pretend I don't understand someone if I don't feel like answering their question for whatever reason (the nature of the question, laziness, etc).  I don't even really necessarily do it on purpose.  I just kind of give a blank stare, and they take it to mean that I didn't understand.  I need to stop doing this, but it's just so easy to feign ignorance.

Note to teacher-self: If someone doesn't understand something, keep working at it until they do.  Don't allow language to be a barrier in finding out what you need to know, or in asking the questions you are trying to ask.  When learning a new language, it's easy to put up a wall and just not response.  Don't let that happen.  You can't learn unless you make the effort to talk, even if you end up saying something not-quite-right.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Yes, I can understand you.

I have so much to say and my computer doesn't want me to say it.

After my first week here, I felt like my language development was kind of stagnating.  I didn't feel like I was getting any better at talking, any better at understanding people, and I didn't know why.  Then, around the end of the 3rd week, one day I realized that I could understand more people and a lot better.  It was a pretty cool revelation.  I certainly still couldn't understand everyone, and I still needed a disgusting amount of sleep in order to comprehend what people were saying, but I could do so noticeably better.

I am taking three classes at the university.  Two of the three classes I am really enjoying and am able to understand the professors well enough.  I always surprise myself when the professors ask me if I understand, and I can genuinely say that yes, I am understand nearly everything it is that they are saying.  The third class, not so much.  There are four ceiling fans in each of my classrooms, and in two of the classes they aren't too loud or distracting.  In this third class though, they are deafening I cannot understand the professor, the other students, I can't focus.  The ceiling fans are so, so distracting.

Message for teacher-self:  Noises, moving objects, anything that is distracting for a student is ever more debilitatingly distracting for a student who is not fluent in the language of the classroom.

Another problem with this class is I cannot for the life of me find the reading materials.  This problem will hopefully soon resolve itself (in that, tomorrow I have class and will not leave until the professor has told me exactly where I can find them).  In the meantime though, I am getting more and more behind in the class.  I blame this on fact that, because of my program director's incompetence, and my missing the first week of class, I wasn't there when the teacher told us where to find the reading materials.  (Oh, I never got a chance to mention that, did I.  My program director, who is supposed to help me and make sure I get acquainted with the city and the university for some reason was unable to find out when my classes were set to start.  She found out a week after they began. I therefore missed the first week of all my classes.  I am still not caught up and am afraid I will never be.  This has caused unnecessary amounts of stress and frustration.)  I told him on Friday that I was going to go to the library and get them all that day (which is where they are supposed to be) and he never mentioned that they aren't actually there.

Message for teacher-self:  If the students don't have the materials, they aren't going to succeed.  Make sure that the students, especially those who have a harder time asking questions (due to language barriers or other reasons) have the required materials and understand what the homework assignments are.

On to the subject of sleep.  I sleep way too much here.  I can't help it.  The heat (it's hot where I am), the Spanish, everything makes me so tired.  If I don't get at least 8 hours of sleep, I cannot understand or speak in Spanish the next day.  When I don't get enough sleep I am really spacey and just feel lost and frustrated.  If I do get enough sleep, I'm a lot more comfortable and happy.

Message for teacher-self:  Sleep is important.  Even more so for student learning a second language.  Similarly to the way all student can easily get distracted, but students learning a second language can get even more distracted, all student need sleep, but students learning a second (or other) language need even more sleep.

I know there were so many other things I wanted to write about, and I can't think of any of them right now.

I was really excited the other day because someone asked me what time it was, and I was able to answer him.   I also can communicate with people better.  I asked two people, in what day, what the hours were for their respective stores, and was able to understand their responses.

I really need to write myself more notes.  At the beginning I was writing myself a lot of notes, but now that I'm really busy, I haven't made myself just sit down for 5-10 minutes a day and write about my experiences, my development.  Unless I learn a new language, I'll never again be able to feel the things that I'm feeling now, experience the developments that I'm currently experiencing.

So, goal: Write more.