The Spanish Verb Geek

I tried to look up my Spanish teacher from High School, Mr. Staubitz, and thank him for teaching me what he could… and sadly, I think, he has passed away…

My dance with the Spanish language started when I was in sixth grade and had the opportunity to be one of six kids from our Elementary School to go with CISV to Mexico City to live with a host family for a month.  The Arvizu family was beautiful and loving and lived right near the Forum in the heart of the city.  Before the six of us left for our adventure, we had Spanish lessons in the basement of Anna Johnson’s house.  We knew nothing.  And when I arrived in Mexico City I knew a wee bit more than nothing.

Naturally, Spanish then became “the language” I wanted to learn in life.  I had Senora Pedrotti in middle school who taught me how to roll my “r”‘s.  And then in high school had Sr. Staubitz who consistently gave me “A’s” and glowing reports on my report card.  Then in college, I took Spanish my freshman year… and then stopped.

Knuckledheadedly I studied abroad (my junior year in college) in Oxford, England, rather than heading to Spain.  And now, at the age of 42 I am DETERMINED to speak fluently in a city that prefers to speak Catalan.

Last year I started off my year here taking classes at the kids’ school two mornings a week with an organization called DIME.  We were tested and I was placed in the Advanced Beginner group.  In the class were 5 other expats all in the same boat as I.  We would discuss everyday situations and experiences.  They would pass out worksheets and we would discuss them.  But I yearned for a book.  I wanted something that would break the language out for me bit by bit.  Because now as an adult, instead of absorbing, I’m finding my learning the language to be more like a math formula that I have to think about and break a part.  So I went online and found what I believe, to this day, to be the BEST workbooks for learning Spanish.  This is one of the many books McGraw Hill has and I love them all.

Last year I would spend my free time working in the workbooks.  I would work through page after page (checking my answers in the back) plodding along and taking my classes with DIME.  Then in January, I started working one on one with a language tutor.  She had me reading the newspaper, watching Spanish Films like Volver and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown by Pedo Almodovar.  She had me listening to books I was reading with her.. books about the Spanish Civil War.. or the Camino de Santiago.  She had me speaking and .. writing her emails in Spanish.  It was a comprehensive approach to learning the language and I loved it.  I would spend my days in the park in front of the apartment with Boo and practice what I was learning with her with my Spanish dog friends…

This year I started out with the language tutor, but decided I wanted more.   So right now I am taking 20 hours a week of Spanish at Don Quijote and LOVE it!!!!  Like all of the Spanish teachers I’ve worked with, they hate the textbook so prefer to work off of the worksheets they photocopy for us.  The class is taught in its entirety in Spanish and includes grammar, conversation, reading, etc.  I’m now in to my fourth week and I plan on continuing.  On top of taking this class, I have downloaded “The Verb Geek” app which I can quiz myself on as I walk the dogs.  And if I’m not doing that, I’m listening to “Notes In Spanish” on my ipod.  I also have joined where I can take practice quizzes and re-learn complex things (for me) like when to use indicative or subjunctive.    And, without guilt, I regularly read Hola! Magazine which is loaded with important things (in Spanish) like what Shakira thinks about motherhood.  So now, a year and a half later, I can honestly say, I think I’m getting it!

However, I was telling a friend yesterday, I now know enough to be dangerous.  Now that I know all of the verb tenses, it’s a buffet of verb conjugations.  I might just grab the wrong one out of desperation.  My goal, however, is to be able to speak fluently with two of my favorite Spanish friends here, Roser (a mother of a basketball player Emma played basketball with last year) and M Carmen.

Sadly, Mr. Staubitz isn’t here for me to thank him for helping build my foundation in Spanish.  But I think of him everyday as I struggle to learn this complex language.  I have learned that a) learning a language as a young child is ideal (because you don’t spend your day deciding whether it’s subjunctive or indicative) but you just say it because it sounds right.  b)  the McGraw Hill books are the BEST books out there (that I have found) for learning Spanish.  c)  Immersion is key: writing, reading, hearing and speaking.  I credit DIME, Don Quitjote, Alejandra (my tutor) and all of my Spanish friends and American friends who have helped me along the way.  And when I’m really having a rough day, I high five myself for being so fluent in English!!  Because THAT is a hard language to learn and it flows so effortlessly for me. :)


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