Saturday, November 10, 2007

Buen Fin de Semana

I'm halfway through a long weekend. Last week, we had Thursday off, and last month we had the 12th, but I feel less spoilt than relieved by this humane spread of public holidays. The past three months have been so interesting, so stimulating, so delightful, so satisfying. At the same time, between new country, new job, new people and new language, it gets tiring!

It all got a bit much on Thursday morning, and I had a rather weepy conversation with Habibi - he wasn't weepy, I might add, just quietly practical: yes, it gets a bit much sometimes, but we've covered all the bases, and we've nothing to worry about. What I needed was a decent night's sleep, and - ideally - a long weekend to cool my overheated brain, and generally chill.

We had this conversation while strolling through the neighborhood - my choice, as I'm less likely to snivel if distracted by the necessity of watching where I'm going and not making a show of myself. We wound up in a little side street cafe, where a film was playing unnoticed on TV. After a while (The TV was sited over Habibi's shoulder.) I registered that the protagonists had taken off their clothes and started doing things of a highly personal nature - not exactly washing behind their ears, you understand. Around the cafe, various other people noticed, watched for a bit with all the interest of cows chewing a stem of grass, and then went back to their conversations, or to gazing over their coffee cups. Fresh from the Middle East, we were a little more distracted, but not much. I almost felt sorry for the actors - all that psyching yourself up for a Nude Scene, and for what? Of course, it might have been different with the sound turned up.......

Outside, there was real entertainment: the tail end of a shouting match between a man and a woman; and a window display to die for: a scattering of bright autumn leaves, and heaps of beautifully made chocolate leaves, chestnuts and acorns, and chocolate-dipped walnuts. Mouthwatering artistry!

From there, I went off to my Spanish lesson, children's English classes in two schools and two adult classes back at base. The first children were as good as gold, and I was proud of them: they're a lively bunch, and its taken some doing to get to that level of concentration and involvement. Let's see if we can continue like this! The second group, an after-school class, and usually pretty focused - were completely hyper at the prospect of a long weekend starting as soon as they got out of class. Ah well.

The adult classes are - naturally - quite different in nature. I find that being a Spanish learner adds an extra dimension to being an English teacher. The challenges that my students face in mastering English are mirror images of the challenges I face with their language. They, of course, are considerably more advanced in English than I am in Spanish, so I have yet to deal with the grammatical and idiomatic points that they are wrestling with now. On the other hand, while they struggle to first hear, and then reproduce English vowel and consonant sounds, like our long 'a' (plate, spade), soft 'sh' and crisp 'ch', I am making a total hash of the lisped Spanish 'c' and 'z' which are somewhere betweenEnglish 'th' (thought) and 's' (sought!). It's a good job I prefer vino tinto to cerveza!

It's ironic that, as a resident here, I have the advantage of total immersion in the language I want to learn; but as an English teacher, I operate in my first language for most of my waking hours, and I can't even take it for granted, because of the need to explain and model it for my students. Not much comfort blanket there!

Out and about, of course, mundane tasks and conversations, and the radio, posters, shop signs, street signs and newspapers of my environment- provide one long practice exercise. Between the particular demands associated with each language, it does get tiring.

I have no complaints though - oh no. I am intrigued by this process of becoming bilingual - as I aim to be, eventually. I love the day-to-day contact with the people I meet in shops, cafes and classes. I get a tremendous buzz out of understanding snatches of conversation and lines from songs.

Anyway, it's the weekend now, and I'm enjoying it!

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