My Spanish Learning

From one of my faithful blog readers: I would like you to share with us how you started learning Spanish (I have read your Spanish vs French page), how much time it took you to master the language, why you chose Spanish and not Italian, etc.

I’d been studying French in high school for two years and loved it, so I decided it would be fun to learn another language. The only languages offered at my school were French and Spanish, so that made that decision easy. As for how long it took me to master it, quite frankly I haven’t. I studied Spanish for two years in high school and maybe 2 in college, and I did some Spanish translation/interpretation classes at MIIS. My level is about intermediate – I know a lot of grammar, and can often correct my husband* but when I speak my tongue gets very tied and usually wants French to come out instead. I can understand a lot more than I can say.

*He speaks Spanish fluently thanks to having worked and lived with Mexicans for more than 10 years, but he never really studied it, so does not ever know why he says anything a particular way.

What’s so great about Costa Rica?

I became fascinated by Costa Rica many years ago – I don’t know exactly when, but long before my first visit. There were essentially two things that made me want to see it for myself. The first is that Costa Rica has no army, and the second is that it has a lot of rainforests. I don’t know which I learned first, but the two together equalled a strong desire to see it for myself.

Then when I finally did go, for two weeks at the end of December 1998/beginning of January 1999, I fell in love. We visited both coasts, went white water rafting through the rainforest (one of most amazing things I’ve ever done), hiked in the cloud forest, took an aerial tram over the rainforest, and just generally had a blast. The people we met were nice and the beaches are gorgeous.

There were a few hiccups. The Spanish is different than anything I’d ever heard before – a lot of the vowels get swallowed, making it harder to understand (though I’m sure I’ll get used to it before long). The capital, San José, isn’t really anything to write home about. And we learned that the best way to travel in the country is with the domestic airlines, rather than the buses, at least in the western half of the country. We once got on a bus that for some reason we thought would take a couple of hours, but turned out to take nearly 12, due to horribly potholed roads and numerous stops.

When we went again in 2005, we concentrated on what we’d liked the most: rafting and the beach. It was, again, phenomenal.

Words of the day (with lots of vowels)

According to a Mexican friend of mine, murciélago (bat) is the only Spanish word with all five vowels.

In English, we have facetiously, which has all 5½ vowels (y is the half) in alphabetical order. I also like the words vacuum and aardvark for the unusual double vowels.

The coolest French word may be jouaient (third person plural imperfect of jouer – to play), which has all five vowels in a row!
And créée (feminine past participle of créer – to create) with its triple E.

Any other vowel-laden words?


The other night my husband was in the kitchen cutting a lime for a gin and tonic, and as I was a bit stuck on the Spanish lesson I was writing (on the perfect infinitive), I decided to take a little break from work and pick his brain at the same time (his Spanish is much better than mine).

While pouring my tonic, I asked him for some examples of the Spanish perfect infinitive. He thought a moment and then started rattling off sentences as he picked up his glass and went to sit down. Meanwhile, my brain frantically tried to keep up with the Spanish as well as to find the rest of the lime, which seemed to have disappeared. A few seconds later I laughed as it was right in front of me but I’d been too distracted to see it. But my husband went one better: he returned to the kitchen to add both gin and tonic to his drink – he’d been so distracted by the Spanish question that he’d done nothing more than squeeze a wedge of lime over the ice in his glass! I couldn’t stop laughing for more than 10 minutes, and I’m laughing again as I write this.

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