Saturday, March 25, 2017

En español, con ganas

Today I'll be giving a talk at the Denver Public Library, Escribiendo parte de nuestra historia con el autor Mario Acevedo. What makes this presentation especially noteworthy is that I was asked to give it in Spanish, no duh, given the title. While I am more or less conversant in Spanish, preparing for this talk filled me with trepidation. Like many other immigrants, the language skills my family brought to this country have deteriorated over the generations. The first generation is fully literate, the second generation (me) much less so, and by the third generation we speak English only. As a young child my first language was Spanish, which we spoke at home. But then you go to public school, are immersed in English, and at that point the vocabulary in the other language stops growing. As you are assimilated in American culture the relevance of the mother culture gets pushed aside. (Up to a point. No one mistakes me for being anything other than Mexican.) Of course, people can blame the school system for this but there was nothing that prevented me from taking the initiative at keeping my Spanish language skills sharp. So I used this recent opportunity to brush up on my español. I just finished reading--in Spanish--Cuban mystery writer Leonardo Padura's intriguing Paisaje de Otoño. As a writer, I choose my words carefully--a challenge enough for me in English--and now I have to do it in Spanish. It's more than simply using Google to translate my address, their software is useful, but it's far from perfect. I also used another website, Front Door, which is more comprehensive and accurate though not as convenient. My ace-in-the-hole is a childhood friend who is a retired ESL teacher and he tutored me through the process. Those of you who are fluent in another language are aware of the subtle shifts in meaning as you translate from English and back again. And then there are phrases that if translated directly lose their meaning or there might not be a literal translation. For example, "soft porn" translates into "porno blando," as in "bland porn," not a bad twist on words. I wondered if there was direct translation of "navel-gazing" and there was! Ombliguismo. "Unwholesome" (we're talking about my books) translates into a rather cool-sounding "moralmente malsano." In Spanish, you don't trip over your words, you "swallow" them (tragar).


So I was going to play on that by asking the audience to "swallow" shots of tequila every time I "swallowed" a word. My friend said, do that and your audience will be drunk before you get a minute into your talk. Salud!

1 comment:

Roland Clarke said...

I grew up with a mother and her Chilean mother speaking Spanish to each other although my mother half-English. So my mother's first language was Spanish, and although her father was English, they moved to France when she was very young and picked up French as her second language and then English. They moved via the Channel Islands during the war. My mother had a knack for learning language so added others.

However, my siblings and I struggled to learn Spanish as we were always being corrected when we got anything even slightly wrong, especially pronunciation. But I must have learnt something as I was good at Spanish at school - but my master kept correcting the way I spoke...even though his accent was typically English. I find that when I am around Spanish speakers, then I find that my ability improves, but I am far from fluent.

My sister went to school and University in Switzerland and France, so she speaks French fluently as does her daughter. My brother doesn't speak Spanish or French, but his Greek is pretty good as his wife is Cypriot. Their kids are fluent in Greek as they spend time in Cyprus.

Moral seems to be if the parents bother then the kids become bilingual.