During our recent stay in Seville, Spain (see picture left), we were again reminded how challenging local dialects are to foreign language learners. That is especially the case when they try to improve their new language in an immersion environment, as in the country where their new language is spoken.
When you visit only for a few days and your interaction with locals is quite limited – as happened during our first stay to Seville in 2012 – you don't seem to notice the dialect very much.
This time, however, it was different.
The four European languages we are very familiar with, German, Spanish, French, and Italian, all have different dialects spoken in various regions. All language schools and online programs, including GamesforLanguage.com, teach a "standard language" that you may hear on radio and television, but which may be spoken in only a few regions of the country.
Chances are you'll find yourself in a region where your language learning efforts over the last few months don't seem to be quite enough. It's no different in Spain, but also presents an opportunity to learn more about the local dialect.
There are other differences to standard "Castilian" Spanish and even to other regions of the Andalusian dialect.
SESEO & CECEO
Generally speaking, typical Andalusian pronunciation features as the "leveling s, z, and c sounds" (the latter before an [i] or an [e]). This means that in parts of Andalusia [s], [z] and [c] have an [s] sound (called a "seseo" dialect.) In other parts of Andalusia [s], [z] and [c] have a [θ] sound (called a "ceceo" dialect.) Seville, in fact, is a small language island. Surrounded by regions that speak "ceceo," the city itself is mostly a "seseo" haven. On the street, with the many tourist coming from other regions of Spain, you of course heard a mixture. In any case, neither "seseo" nor "ceceo" is really part of standard Castilian. Castilian and Andalusian have been perceived as distinct dialects since the the 15th century. In Castilian Spanish, [s] is pronounced as [s]; and [c] and [z] are pronounced [θ]. The latter is sometimes called the "Castilian lisp."
We noticed that [d] was weakened or dropped entirely when between two vowels. For example in the bus, we heard "próxima para" (instead of "próxima parada," next stop); and, our Sevillian acquaintances would say "a menu'o" (instead of "a menudo,") often. Flamenco terms are famous examples: cantaor (from cantador, Castilian: cantante "singer"); tocaor (from tocador, Castilian: músico); and bailaor (from bailador, Castilian: bailarín). When spelled, the [d] is also dropped, we learned. [See Wikipedia "Andalusian Spanish"]
FORMAL OR INFORMAL
Spain in general, including Andalusia, is known for it's greater informality compared to Latin American countries. When we met our tutor for the first time, he immediately addressed us with "tú," though we were clearly older than he. Since pronouns are dropped unless you need them for clarity or emphasis, he happily used the pronoun-less "tú" form with us, but dropped the "s-endings" (tiene, habla, quiere, encuentra, etc.). When I asked him whether Sevillians could tell the difference between "tiene" (informal with the dropped "s") and "tiene" (formal), he said, actually no, and smiling, said that he had never thought about it. So, in Sevilla, you may not always catch right away whether someone is addressing you formally or informally.
In most cases, you don't chose to stay or live in a region because of a particular language dialect: Work, family, friends, cultural, or other interests, etc. generally impact your decision. So chances are that you will find yourself in a city or town with a local dialect.
When you are starting to notice what distinguishes the local dialect from the standard language, you are on your way to reaching another language level.
And the sooner you can discover some to the typical idiosyncrasies of the local language, the faster you'll be able to understand and eventually speak it.
Af the end of our month there, we could pretty well understand our tutor and our language exchange partners, but we spoke the Sevillian dialect only in small chunks, such as with "gracia" and "do cerveza."
Thus, in Seville, we still remained at the first stage, but feel quite confident that after a few more weeks we would have graduated to stage two.
At the end of our one-month-for-fluency stay in Seville (March 2015), we experienced the two initial days of Sevilla's amazing family festival, the Semana Santa (Holy Week). The entire city seemed to participate. Whole families, from babies to grandparents, and many groups of young and old came out into the street, especially in the late afternoon and evenings. This year drew especially large crowds, as spring was in full bloom and the weather was sunny and warm.
We already noticed in early March that viewing stands were being erected behind the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), on the route of all the processions. From days before, Sevilla was transformed: Repairs to buildings and roads were completed; balconies were draped with festive cloths; mobile restrooms were erected and hooked up to the city sewer system (no “porta potties"!); barriers and chairs were placed at major viewing routes; the inner “casco antiguo” (old town) was closed to traffic in the afternoons, taxis were banned, bus routes were changed, and a large part of the old town became a pedestrian zone.
Daily program booklets came with the local newspaper El Diario de Sevilla and showed the routes and times of the various processions, and the site Sevillasemanasanta.com gives you more details on brotherhoods, processions times and routes.
During Semana Santa, there were seven to ten daily processions, organized by the different "cofradías" or "hermandades" (religious brotherhoods), social organizations that play a crucial role in putting on the processions.
Sevilla alone has 60 different "cofradías," some of which are associated with trades, as can be seen in their name, for example, "La Cena" (dinner), "La Hiniesta" (broom), "La Borriquita" (little donkey), others have a spiritual names such as "La Paz" (peace), "El Amor" (love), "La Amargura" (bitterness).
Still others carry the names of various saints. Some of the "cofradías" trace their origin back to the 16th century; they often have several thousand members, who participate in the processions. You can find out more about each of the brotherhood in the above link.
These solemn processions with their large floats bearing Jesus and Mary statues, decorated with candles and flowers, accompanied by spirited music and hundreds of "Nazarenos" (penitents) wearing pointy hoods and cloaks in various color combinations - all made for an elaborate, unforgettable spectacle.
Especially the “Nazarenos” dressed in all white may create some unpleasant (KKK) associations for older, especially African Americans. For Sevillians, however, the hooded figures that could be seen walking through the old town to their procession starts, were just part of the Semana Santa celebrations, which began officially on Palm Sunday.
Each of the processions moved along a specific route and took many hours to complete it. Several of them started at 3 PM and ended at 2:00 or 3:00 AM in the morning.
We could see that many of the "Nazarenos" following the processions were teenagers or even younger, and these were accompanied by parents or other family members who provided them with water or a sandwich from time to time.
In Seville you can't see the men who carry the ornate and quite heavy floats: They are underneath each float and and only come out occasionally for a well-deserved drink when the procession comes to a halt.
The atmosphere in the city during those days was electric, excited, but the crowds were surprisingly calm and measured. Several times, as we walked from one procession to another, we were caught in a stream of people who were doing the same.
In spite of our initial anxiety at being in such a densely-packed and moving crowd, we witnessed no out-of-control behavior, no unpleasant incidents, no shouting. There were lots of small and older children present and we thought that surely some of them would get lost in the crowd.
Later we heard of only one case of a child that had gotten lost, but was found again after a few hours. People were surprisingly patient, courteous, laid back. And, even though there was a lot of waiting time, no one seemed to get upset about this. People socialized, chatted, kids played hide and go seek. It was truly a colorful, inclusive folk festival that added powerful memories to those of our stay.
My husband and I spent the month of March in Seville, Spain (left: La Giralda under blue sky, seen from el Alcázar), mostly in sunny, warm weather, while our home town, Boston, USA, kept getting bombarded with relentless snowfalls. We were lucky to be away at that time, but the main reason for our trip was to improve our Spanish through the best kind of "immersion" that we could set up. It's not easy for adult foreigners to meet and engage with locals, so we had a plan: We set up "live" language exchanges in advance and were determined to find a local teacher for conversation lessons.
To be honest, our initial conversations were pretty halting. To be able to talk about your own experiences in a casual, spontaneous way, you need to know present and past verb forms. For Spanish, with its different past tenses, that's quite a task. Using just the simple past gets the basic message across but often not all of the meaning.
Already our first exchange conversation had us go back to our place and review the basic tenses of common verbs such as "hacer, estar, ser, ir, haber, poder, tener, etc." I wrote out the forms by hand on sheets of paper. We memorized them and practiced them in between sightseeing stints.
It wasn't just the grammar which made a normal conversation challenging. All of our exchange partners were from the Seville area and spoke the local city dialect. (Sevillians talk fast and drop some letters, including most occurrences of the letter 's' in the middle or end of words.) In time, though, we got used to the dropped letters.
Doing those conversations during our first two weeks was a big step forward. It felt really good to begin understanding spontaneous questions and to learn how to ask them. The great thing about meeting with others is that your head starts preparing and practicing for the conversations in advance and processes them afterwards. It's another level of learning, quite focused and effective.
Adding a Tutor
We intended to ask our language partners if they knew any tutors for our remaining two weeks, but instead came across a notice at a nearby square. It offered: Clases de Español (see photo), and had a phone number attached. I mustered my Spanish and texted our interest in 7 tutoring sessions. We got an answer quickly and set up a first meeting for the next day.
Carlos, a young licensed teacher of Spanish at a local school, spoke no other foreign languages except some Italian. That he spoke no English was a huge stroke of luck for us. It forced us to express and explain ourselves only in Spanish. He in turn, being a trained teacher, knew just when and how to correct us without interrupting the conversation too much.
A Conversation Format
You can't learn a language without speaking it, and engaging in a conversation is clearly the best way to level up your speaking skills. On the one hand you are listening to the other speaker(s) and interpreting what is being said; on the other, you are beginning to frame an answer, but at the same time have to keep in mind grammatical points such as verb endings, tenses, pronouns, agreement, etc. Besides, your answer has to have some momentum to keep the conversation going. Stopping at every second or third word is not going to cut it.
Being in a live conversation gives you the chance to ask questions. If there's something you don't understand, you can just ask for an explanation or a clarification. Questions are also a good way to keep the conversation going and to give you a certain amount of conversational control.
Topics for Conversation
Our main intent was to practice conversation, but to keep conversations moving along you need to have interesting things to discuss. Carlos asked us for topics we'd like to focus on. During our stay in Seville, general elections in Andalusia were happening and one of our sessions was a question-and-answer session about Andalusia's political history, and we explained voting processes and party structure in the U.S.
Also, at the end of our visit, the amazing festivities of "Semana Santa" (Easter week) began. (See above a picture of one of the many processions that occur every day from Palm Sunday to Easter. A future post will provide more details.) Besides discussing some of the local traditions of Easter week with us, Carlos also told us of his memories of growing up in Seville, especially his experiences as a child during the Easter week festivities. This made the lessons quite personal and interesting.
Learning to Rephrase
When you're talking about something in a foreign language, it can often happen that you're looking for a specific word, but just cannot remember it. An excellent skill to practice is to rephrase what you're trying to say and express it in different words, rather than stop short and rack your brains. Knowing that English would not help, we were forced to say things "in other words," again and again, and actually got pretty good at it. To be able to do this, of course, you need enough vocabulary. Reading the local newspaper every day was helpful for the topics we were talking about.
Clarifying Grammar in Context
Conversational practice is an ideal vehicle for learning grammar in context. I normally use a grammar text to look up questions that I have. I rarely start with a text book to learn grammar. In our conversations with Carlos, we started out by talking about things we had done, i.e. we had to use Spanish past verb tenses. Since there are several to choose from and they differ in usage from English past verb tenses, our conversations were a effective way to practice the Spanish forms.
Carlos gave us a helpful, simplified guideline for which tense to use when: The "imperfect tense" (imperfecto) sets the scene that you embellish with other events; The "simple past" (pretérito) expresses an event in the past that is finished and doesn't relate to the present; The "present perfect" (pretérito perfecto) is a past, finished event that nevertheless still impacts the present moment. Understanding which verb tense to use as we talked about past events and experiences was a great way to learn a difficult chunk of grammar.
The Local Dialect
At first, our tutor spoke a little more carefully and avoided dropping the "s" from words as he talked. But after a couple of sessions, he fell back into his dialect pronunciation. We could have asked him to use a more standard way of speaking, but found in time that we could understand him quite well. In the end, it has made our Spanish a little more versatile. Carlos explained to us that the Spanish of Andalusia is closer to Latin American Spanish than that which is spoken in other parts of Spain and that was due to large waves of emigration from Andalusia to the Spanish colonies in the Americas.
Our Fluency Boost
Did our month in Seville make us fluent Spanish speakers? Not as fluent as we'd like to be. But it gave our fluency a big boost. When we compare our initial taxi ride from the airport to Seville at the beginning of our stay, to our ride from Seville to the airport at the end of our stay, there was quite a difference. At the beginning, we asked a few short questions or made brief comments and didn't understand a lot of what the taxi driver responded. At the end, we were chatting away with the taxi driver about our stay, the elections, Semana Santa, differences of taxi ownership and taxi colors in Spanish cities (In Seville they are all white) etc. We clearly had made noticeable progress.
Now we just have to figure out how we can give our language fluency another boost...
When it comes to foreign currency, traveling has become so much easier: Instead of worrying about how much of the foreign currency you should change at home or at the foreign airport (do you still remember “traveler checks”?) - today you can pay with your credit card(s) in many places or withdraw cash at ATM machines all over the world. Yes, you have to be conscious about the various bank and exchange fees and be aware of the fee differences between the various cards.
But, even if you are, you'll still want to read about our recent experience in Seville, Spain. Here is our story:
Beware of ATM Withdrawals at Night
Ever since an ATM in Barcelona did not return my card a few years ago, I have been reluctant to withdraw money from a cash machine at night. At that time, it happened during the day and I just went into the branch office and recovered my card without much of a problem. If one's card is withheld at night, things might get more complicated, especially if you have to explain your problem in a foreign language.
In Seville, as in many cities in Spain and Italy, dinner in a (non-tourist) restaurant typically starts after 8 PM. As we were returning from a very pleasant dinner out, we walked by a Unicaja ATM and replenishing my depleted funds seemed appropriate.
Feeling good and confident, I disregarded my usual concerns and went ahead with a withdrawal. I chose the English language option at the machine to avoid any mistakes and everything seemed to go along fine. A prompt on the screen instructed me to take the cash. I waited patiently for a moment, when suddenly another screen came up: “For technical reasons it is not possible to provide you with the cash requeted [sic].”
Well, this seemed strange, but technical malfunctions happen. I did not see a phone or intercom to report the error right away and took my card when it was ejected. I also waited for and observed the next machine customer (see picture above) as he completed his transaction, apparently without a problem (and fortunately without “my” cash!)
Check your Bank or Credit Card Account
However, two days later, when I checked my bank account, I saw to my surprise, that 505 euros had indeed been withdrawn (500 euros plus a 5 euro transaction fee).
I returned to the ATM, which is located at one of Unicaja's branches in Calle Sierpes, and reported the problem to the customer service representative at the bank. She summoned others for help, but none of the branch employees' English was better than our Spanish, so we had to explain the problem in Spanish.
After checking the bank's accounts and verifying my credentials, passport and credit card, the manager agreed that it was indeed the bank's problem. (As this happened two days after the initial withdrawal, we were somehow surprised that they had not discovered this issue earlier.)
I signed and received a transfer notice of 500 euros to be put back to my account and assumed that the money would show up in my account within a few days
The Story Continues...
Why did I not just ask for the 500 euros I had been unable to withdraw from the ATM machine? In retrospect, I believe that's what I should have requested. But since I went to another bank to successfully withdraw money from its ATM right after the failed attempt, I did not want any more cash. I also believed that the deposit back to my account would be done quickly, i.e. within a day or two. (Later I found out that such a request would not have been honored anyways, as credit card/bank rules prohibit it.)
When five days later I still did not see the deposit of the 500 euros in my account, I went back to the branch to inquire. By that time, we had also brushed up on our Spanish banking language and explained our situation again. However, we were told that there was nothing they could do, as they had already initiated the transfer back to my account. I was told that I should just be patient.
Fool me Once, Shame on You...
Then I thought, now with the branch office open, let's give the machine another try. And when I tried to make another withdrawal, exactly the same happened: The ominous screen - “For technical reasons it is not possible to provide you with the cash requeted [sic]” appeared again. This time, however, we not only took photos of several of the screens, but also reported the problem right away. As the ATM customer before us apparently also had an issue and was making a complaint, it was clear that the bank was aware of the problem. Our second failed transaction was immediately canceled.
Patience Wearing thin...
A few more days have passed and now it's been more than ten days since my first unhappy withdrawal experience. I've sent several e-mails and we have made several trips to the branch office, but the funds still haven't not shown up in my bank account.
In our latest foray into the Unicaja bank's branch office, we asked for the branch director. His explanation was more differentiated and he reiterated that Unicaja ("Un banco pequeño, pero un buen banco!" - A small, but a good bank") indeed had made the transfer back to the "Maestro" intermediary (Master Card in Europe), but Maestro, apparently, had not effected the transfer back to my bank yet. And credit card/bank rules don't allow cash payments by the bank for failed ATM transactions. Patience again.
While Unicaja's branch staff were very nice and tried to be helpful, we were really surprised that none of the staff spoke any English, French or German, the languages we are still more fluent in than Spanish. However, it gave us a great opportunity to practice our Spanish and apply the banking terms we had looked up and tried to memorize.
ATM Lessons Learned
Never make a cash withdrawal at night, especially in a foreign country.
Check whether the machine has a phone or intercom with which you can report a problem right away.
Only use ATMs during during working hours that are part of a bank or branch office. (In Seville typical bank working hours are from 8:00 AM to 2:30 PM)
Obtain a written confirmation of the deposit back to your credit card and inquire with your credit card company/bank that the deposit was made.
Learn some key banking/financial terms in the foreign language.
English not Spoken Everywhere
While our experience with Unicaja was somewhat annoying, it also gave us an opportunity to brush up on our financial language and practice our Spanish.
The experience with the branch personnel and its manager also confirmed what we had experienced ourselves and heard from others here in Seville. English is not the preferred foreign language in southern Spain. As I've mentioned, no one at the bank spoke English. As a matter of fact, the bank director said proudly: "No hablo inglés, sólo hablo español." (I don't speak English, I only speak Spanish.) Also, to our surprise, our Spanish tutor, a professor at a local university, also speaks no English, and we have heard from others that French and German have come into favor in recent years as foreign languages learned and spoken in southern Spain.
Update - The end of the Story
On April 9, 2015, nearly exactly a month after the 500 Euros disappeared from my bank account, I finally received a deposit of Euro 500.00 back to my account. I am still not sure who is holding the Fee of 5 Euros, Unicaja, Maestro, or my bank, but I am sure I will find out in time. While Unicaja maintained that there was nothing they could do - they had returned the 500 Euros to Maestro - I suspect that my formal complaint to the bank that had issued the debit card and the bank's follow-up finally gave me my money back. It is still surprising to me, however, how long it took Maestro to return the funds that they had received two days after the failed transaction.
Last fall, American friends of ours spent a month in Dijon. They had rented an apartment over the Internet with the dream of soaking up local life “the French way” and getting a huge boost in their fluency in the French language. They certainly had a wonderful time exploring the city and the surrounding region, and they thoroughly enjoyed the local food.
When we started planning our one-month stay in Seville, we thought a lot about how we could get the most language learning out of our visit.
Our Four Tips
We always use the local language – in our case Spanish - and refuse to use English. When we asked for information in the local tourist office, the young woman was eager to respond in English to our (still imperfect) Spanish, but then continued in Spanish when we did not follow suit. We found an apartment in the old town and have started to frequent local cafés, bodegas, and market stands to the point that the waiters and sales persons know us and don't mind chatting with us, only in Spanish.
We spend mornings (or several hours, as it fits our schedule) learning Spanish on our own. We start with online sessions on GamesforLanguage, Duolingo, and Babbel, where we need to speak up and sound out Spanish phrases and sentences. We follow this up with exercises in a grammar book and by writing out verb conjugations on a sheet (which we carry around for practice in between).
We listen to Spanish TV in the morning as we get breakfast ready, read an article or two in the local newspaper (or online, using Lingua.ly) and typically watch the Spanish evening news. Most evenings, we also watch parts of a Spanish film or program after we get back from dinner out.
We meet with language exchange partners. No doubt, this last point, meeting with native speakers for extended conversations, is giving us the most dramatic results. It goes without saying, however, that our other efforts are also essential techniques for putting our brain into “Spanish gear,” expanding our vocabulary, as well as our sharpening listening and speaking abilities. (Our experience with a local Spanish tutor will be the topic of another blog and can obviously not be separated from the “most dramatic results.”)
Setting up Language Exchanges
On the internet, we found quite a few different language exchange sites. We subscribed to three of them: conversationexchange.com, mylanguageexchange.com, and gospeaky.com.
While all three are free, we found conversationexchange.com to be the most effective for us. (Although we had bought a premium membership for mylanguageexchange.com and had been able to find several contacts in Seville, none of them has worked out so far.)
On the other hand, conversationexchange.com allowed us to screen both for Sevilla and for “face-to-face” conversations (both options that gospeaky.com does not offer).
Key to finding language exchange partners in the city where you are staying, is to start the search early. Some subscribers may have moved and not all of them check their site regularly.
We've been able to meet with three of our contacts already several times and have been very pleased with the interaction. Though below we describe our thoughts for face-to-face meetings, these may apply as well to skype or other real-time online conversations.
Preparing for our meetings
We write out scripts with basic sentences about ourselves plus questions to ask (and continue to do so for every meeting).
This has us figure out the difference between imperfect and simple past verb tenses, for example, and continues to make us look up some basic additional vocabulary about professions, family, hobbies, local politics, European news, etc.
We practice these “scripts” and our various questions first silently and then out loud.
Meeting with our Language Exchange Partners
During our short first visit to Seville three years ago, we had not really noticed it, but several friends have alerted us that Sevillians have a distinct dialect that is not always easy to understand by foreigners. We've already encountered the “dropped s” that happens not only in final position of words but also in their middle.
Though the three people we've been meeting, Sara, Carlos, and Marta, are quite different in age, background, and profession, our language-learning experience with each is rather similar.
Dividing up the Time
Following the advice of more experienced language exchangers, we said right off at each meeting that we'd like to stick with 20 minutes Spanish only, followed by 20 minutes English only (or, in the case of Carlos, 20 minutes German - which he preferred), with the rest of the time open to going back and forth.
We believe that dividing up the time equally is a better arrangement than having each person just speak the language he or she is learning. Listening comprehension is an important skill to practice, especially with native speakers, and in the case of our Sevillian exchange partners, a real challenge for us.
Fast Colloquial Spanish
Sara, Carlos, and Marta are all from Sevilla and speak rapid-fire Spanish with us, dropping their s's all over the place (sometimes even when speaking in English).
It is quite clear that it's hard to have a language exchange with someone who is a total beginner in the language s/he is learning. In order to have anything like a conversation, both parties should know the basics of communication and have an adequate vocabulary. Although it is intimidating at first, jumping into real spoken language is the best way to go.
Listening in a Conversation
When you listen to the radio, watch a film, or listen in when other people are speaking, you are of course training your listening skills. But that kind of “passive listening” is a somewhat different activity from listening while engaged in a conversation.
When someone speaks to you, you are expected to respond. In fact, as you're listening, your mind is interpreting what you're hearing and beginning to create a response to what is being said. When this is happening in a foreign language, your brain - including its grammar region - is in in full, active gear. It's the best kind of brain training.
No doubt, after our four weeks in Seville, we'll both better understand and may even have picked up bits of the local accent, though I don't think I'll continue to say “gracia” (without the “s”) once we've left this charming town.
Using face-to-face language exchanges in the city you are staying is not only a great way to meet local people, but can be key to improving your fluency in the foreign language. This way, you can certainly level up considerably in one month.
We are now in Seville, Spain, staying a stone's throw from Plaza de la Encarnación and right in the middle of Seville's extensive "casco antiguo" (historical town).
Three years ago, after staying in Barcelona for a month, (see: In Barcelona Learning "Spanish" is not Enough), we also took a trip though southern Spain, and stayed three days Seville. We immediately took a special liking to this lively and charming town. We had fun retracing the steps of David, our young Gamesforlanguage Spanish 1 traveler, whose visit to Barcelona, Granada, Sevilla and Madrid provides the basic narrative for our Spanish 1 course. This year, with the plan to again improve our Spanish, we chose Seville as our one-month home.
When staying in a new city, the first few days are always a time to get one's bearings. In Seville, it's easy to keep getting lost in the narrow streets of the old city. They seem to run criss cross in no predictable direction, and the height of the buildings prevent you from orienting yourself with the sun's position. But Seville's "casco antiguo" is a very walkable part of the 700,000+ inhabitants city. Once you've learned the major street patterns, you can easily reach all historical sights on foot.
The Metropol Parasol, dominates the plaza and surprised us during our first evening (see picture above) as we explored the neighborhood. Suddenly we found ourselves under what Sevillians call "las setas" (the mushrooms). It is a giant structure, designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer and constructed of wood panels and steel and built between 2005 in 2011 to replace a defunct and derelict space. We should note that this structure has created much controversy, both due to its form, as well as due its construction cost and cost overruns. We found it quite appealing, with the giant Plaza full of life, outside seating areas for cafés and restaurants. A fruit, vegetable, fish and meat market is easily accessible on the street level, and, from a viewing platform on top, you have a wonderful view of the city, including La Giralda and now the newest item of controversy, the "Pelli Tower".
The 580 foot, 43 story high tower, designed by Cesar Pelli's (former dean of Yale University's School of Architecture) New Haven firm, is currently being completed on the site of the 1992 Expo across the Guadalquivir river from Seville's historic city centre. As you can see on the picture above from the top of "las setas", the Pelli Tower in the back ground not only exceeds in height any of Sevilla's buildings, but is even nearly twice as high as La Giralda. Seville had to fear for its status as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2012. But after assuring the Unesco Commission "that there will be no more buildings of such great height in the area", Seville was not put the Unesco "danger list".
A cousin came to stay with us for the weekend, so we started out with visiting again La Giralda (the Almohad tower of the cathedral, picture left) and the Alcázar (a Mudéjar palace, picture below, right). We marveled not only at the wonderful architecture and mosaics, but also at the many orange trees, full with oranges, in the courtyards and gardens. Coming from New England and escaping the snow and cold, the weather here in Sevilla is a special treat. Sunny days with temperatures in the mid to high seventies encourage us to have lunch outside. The nights cool down into the high forties, providing perfect sleeping conditions.
On Sunday, the three of us ventured to Triana, a neighborhood with a traditional tile and pottery industry as well as a lively flamenco culture. Sitting in a sidewalk restaurant on the Calle San Jacinto, we experienced a somewhat funny exchange with the waiter, which made us pay special attention to the local dialect and pronunciations. I ordered three beers, and - being under pressure - let my Italian interfere. I said: “Tre cervezas, por favor.” The waiter gave me a quizical look and asked in turn “Un? ... Dos? ... Tres?” and when I confirmed: “Tres, por favor” he nodded and said: “Tre, vale.” We found this amusing because I had mistakenly said "tre," very much in the way he then acknowledged my order. He clearly had not expected a "Sevillian dialect" from me!
In Seville, final consonants, or consonants at the end of syllables are often dropped. So, we mostly hear "gracia" (instead of "gracias" [thanks]) and "die" (instead of "diez" [ten]). We've also been noticing - in our frequent queries for directions - that Sevillians say "i-quierda" for "left" (instead of izquierda).
A closer, more academic look at the dialects of southern Spain provides a much more complicated picture, of course. For now, we are happy to soak up the language as it happens to us and to speak as much Spanish as we can.
In one of our next blogs, we'll report on how we are progressing with our fluency goal.
Why is language learning such a challenge for many adults? People often say that they are "not good at languages" to explain why they didn't stay with a language that they started to learn. But there may be a better answer: Adults who start a language getdiscouraged easily, stop much too quickly, and don't trust their own abilities enough.
How can you keep yourself from giving up too easily? As with any long-term project, you have to stay really motivated, ideally with specific interim goals in mind. But this is not enough, you also need continuous and full-hearted engagement.
Good and Bad Reasons to Get Started
For adults who set out to learn a foreign language (I am excluding school children here), there may be good or bad reasons for getting started. Among the “bad” reasons one could include: trying to impress somebody; falling for a quick learning scheme; keeping up with the Joneses. On the other hand, “good” reasons for learning a language are those related to work, travel, living abroad, family and heritage, friends and lovers, professional interests and study, curiosity about language and culture, just to name the most common ones. And, for any of these, the real NEED to know the language makes the most powerful motivator.
It's no secret that many adults that start out learning a foreign language often give up after only a short time. Surveys show that “keeping up the motivation” and “not enough time” are the two principal difficulties that learners list when learning a foreign language. And while the excuse that there's “not enough time” may also hide other reasons, most adult learners are usually quite motivated at the outset, only to realize that real progress is slow and takes more time and effort than they had anticipated.
Also, there clearly are different levels of motivation. The need to understand and speak a new language may be different for someone who has a new job assignment and career in a foreign country than for someone who intends to travel there for a short vacation. But “keeping up the motivation” is certainly a difficulty that cannot be underestimated.
There are very few things (if any) in life we can really learn half-heartedly. As children we seem to learn many things playfully, but it takes us quite a few years to fully acquire our first language, as well as complex skills such as playing various sports. And, the motivation to learn is likely both genetic (“wired” for language, walking, running, winning, etc.) and environmental (copying, competing with, encouraged by siblings, friends, parents, teachers, etc). As adults, the goals and challenges we set ourselves arise from various sources, family, friends, jobs, as well as our own interests, desires, fears, etc.
Learning a foreign language as an adult is one activity that will show progress only if we have regular and frequent exposure to the language and use it with increasing frequency. Those learners who engage themselves with the language in many different ways will also find that they will stay motivated.
What does “engagement” mean in this context? To be “engaged” in learning a foreign language implies that you do more than just attend a language class once a week, listen to a couple of CDs or online lessons once or twice per week, or open a vocabulary app or a course book from time to time. It means that you have been hit by the language bug and are getting involved with the new language in many different ways: frequently reading newspaper articles and books, watching TV and movies, regularly listening to audios and podcasts, meeting people to talk to, either in person or online. (Taking with native speakers is really the best way, and many believe the only way to practice speaking and to improve your fluency.)
You may be planning a trip to the country where the language is spoken and start learning about its culture, history and politics. If the country's food or wine interests you, great – another entry point to learn about it and get engaged in discovery.Just imagine how engaged you are with any activities you consider fun. The more you can connect the target language with those aspects of life that are fun to you or you feel passionate about, the more engaged you will be, and the more fuel you will add to your motivation.
So deciding which language class to attend or which online language course to subscribe to are only initial steps in your long-term learning project. Maybe you'll even hold off on that decision until you have thought further about what really motivates and engages you.
Once you understand and accept that learning a foreign language as an adult is a long-term, even a life-long project, you can go about making a plan for how to accomplish it. (In a previous post, P.M. Tools for Language Learning..., I had also suggested that applying certain project management tools to such a long-term project will be helpful.)
On our Gamesforlanguage home page, as well as on our social media pages, we say that we provide "immersion-style" language learning. What do we mean with "immersion-style" language learning? To answer this question, let's first back up a little.
Whether you can learn a language through "full immersion" is a much-debated topic. On the one hand, many agree that full immersion - living in the country or in a community where the language is spoken - is the best way to become fluent in a foreign language. On the other hand, much has been written about the numerous immigrant children who have difficulty keeping up in their new school and about adults who've lived for years in a foreign country but haven't really mastered its language.
I experienced full immersion in a foreign language twice as a child, once at age 9 (Dutch) and once more at age 11 (English), neither language I had learned during my early school years in Austria. In both the Netherlands and Canada, I attended school and got special help from teachers to learn how to spell, read, write short compositions, and give brief oral reports. It was all pretty intense because I learned all other subjects (maths, geography, history, social studies, etc.) through a language that I was also just learning. And, of course, I continuously improved my language skills by being with friends.
My husband experienced full immersion in a foreign language twice as an adult, once at age 23 (French) and once again at age 28 (English). In both French Switzerland and the U.S., he literally acquired language fluency "on the job." In both cases, his learning was based on language skills (reading, writing, speaking) that he had learned in school in Germany. Discussions with friends and the tasks of daily life provided him with ample opportunities for further practice.
It seems clear that you need more than just living in the foreign country to become fluent in the language that's spoken there. You need the kind of learning environment that's right for you and often extra, personalized instruction. Above all, while you are "immersed" in a foreign language, you need to understand what is being said and what's going on around you, otherwise it all goes over your head. Especially for an adult, it's useful to be able to relate a foreign language to one's native language: understand what's similar, what's different - until your new language becomes a natural and intuitive tool for communication.
Under the right circumstances, full immersion will work. But not everyone has the time nor the opportunity to go live in another country just to learn a language. We therefore have to employ other strategies and methods, and create, as Brian Powers calls them Simulated Language Immersion Environments
You can set up your own simulated language immersion by setting aside times during the day when you hear or use only the language you're learning. Among our favorites are these five examples:
-Watching a foreign movie with (or even without) subtitles in that language.
-Reading a book in the foreign language without looking up words.
-Conversing with someone only in the foreign language.
-Listening to an audio that's completely in the foreign language.
-Talking to yourself only in the foreign language.
Such bouts of short-time immersion, if done frequently, can yield good results. In my experience, you can get the most out of them if you already have a good basic knowledge of the language.
Still, even if you are a real beginner, there are skills to be gained during these short-term language immersions. You'll become familiar with sounds and rhythm of the language just by listening attentively; by looking for visual context clues in a film or video, you'll learn about non-verbal communication; by reading simple texts you'll start internalizing the look and spelling patterns of a language; and by memorizing basic conversational phrases and repeating them to yourself, you'll practice basic sentence structure and the mechanics of sounding out words.
Aside from full immersion and short-term immersion, there are, of course, other ways to learn a language. Rather than limiting yourself to one only, it's often best to use several different methods and resources. In the long run, these have a way of complementing and boosting each other.
GamesforLanguage's (G4L's) “immersion-style” learning is simply one such approach. I'll outline what we consider immersion-style features of our courses by contrasting them to a couple of other popular programs and approaches.
G4L puts you right into the middle of spoken language. For example, you could be using an expression with a subjunctive or conditional in one of the first course lessons. This is different from textbook learning, or Duolingo, where you start with simplified language.
With G4L you hear only the language you're learning, and no English (except for a brief introduction giving the context). This is different from Pimsleur (an audio program) where around 50% of what you hear are cues in English to prompt the learner's translation.
G4L strengthens listening and speaking with various games and exercises: With “Say It” you repeat what you hear and then only see the written foreign word or phrase for a brief moment; in other games, you have to identify the foreign word after only hearing it. Finally, by recording and playing back the story dialog, learners can improve their pronunciation and also begin to memorize expressions and sentences.
G4L's short written exercises have you writing only in the foreign language. This is again different from Duolingo, where between 10-20% of what you write is in English.
G4L does not use pictures but works with text only. Yes, sometimes pictures do help one to remember a word. But once you get beyond objects and some simple actions, the technique of using pictures is limited. That's what happens in Rosetta Stone's programs. Once you get beyond basic objects and actions, it's not always easy to figure out what a picture is supposed to mean. Besides, as you learn learn new words and expressions, it makes a lot of sense to create your own mental image or scenario. And, there are various mnemonic techniques that provide powerful ways for improving vocabulary memorization.(Try The Universe of Memory for a free course and very helpful information on memory and learning!)
In each of the G4L lessons, the learner plays several games that break a segment of the travel story down into its component words and phrases. Then follow a couple of games that have the learner reassemble the story again, with a final exercise to "record and replay" the full segment.
Finally, G4L uses games and a story as teaching tools. Games make learning more fun and help to put you into a state of flow as you memorize new words and figure out grammatical patterns. The story provides the kind of context that lets you imagine a scenario that you're involved in, and gives you the precise meaning of the words you're learning. Just learning lists of individual words, as in Memrise, Mindsnacks, and others, is not sufficient for learning a new language, although vocabulary learning is important and clearly necessary for communicating.
Neither online or typical classroom courses can ever create complete immersion environments. For such an experience, you have to live in the country or be a full-time participant of immersion language courses that also use the target language for teaching. However, we've made a step in that direction by adding immersion-style features with the goal to maximize the learner's exposure to and involvement in the target language.
The recent thaw in the relations between Cuba and the U.S. brought to mind that La Paloma, a song that over the years has been adapted and sung in so many languages, actually originated in Cuba.
In an earlier post, La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish with a Song, we focused mainly on how you can learn some typical Spanish expressions by saying or singing the song's lyrics. In addition, we gave a brief summary of the song's history: Composed around 1860 by the Basque composer Sebastián Iradier after his visit to Havana.
La Paloma - A Song for the Ages
When you google "La Paloma song," you'll find a Wikipedia entry which tells you not only details about the song's motif (the dove), dating back to 492 BC; some of its history (a favorite of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico); early translations into French and German in the 1860's, with new lyrics in different languages, interpretations by famous artists; as well as the many movies in which a version of the song occurs.
La Paloma is arguably the most frequently played song and melody in the world. I've read that in Zanzibar it's being played at the end of weddings, in Romania at the end of funerals. In Germany it's a sailor's song, made famous by Hans Albers in his movie "Grosse Freiheit #7" in 1944.
The La Paloma - Carmen connection
When digging a little further, I discovered that there's a connection between Iradier's "La Paloma" and the "Habanera" aria in Bizet's Carmen: "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle," which is said to be very close, melodically, to "El Arreglito," another song composed by Sebastián Iradier. Both are "habaneras," the name used outside of Cuba for the Cuban "contradanza," a type of dance music that became popular in the 19th century. Bizet originally thought El Arreglito was a folk song, only to discover that it had been written by Iradier who had died ten years earlier. Bizet then added a note to the vocal score of "Carmen" to acknowledge the source.
Cuban Music History and Future
Another Wiki entry further explains: "The Cuban 'contradanza' (also called contradanza criolla, danza, danza criolla, or habanera) was a popular dance music genre of the 19th century. ... Its origins dated back to the European 'contredanse,' which was an internationally popular form of music and dance of the late 18th century. It was brought to Santiago de Cuba by French colonists fleeing the Haitian Revolution in the 1790's ... During the first half of the 19th century, the 'contradanza' dominated the Cuban musical scene to such an extent that nearly all Cuban composers of the time, whether composing for the concert hall or the dance hall, tried their hands at the contradanza."
It's interesting that the language circle was completed when Iradier brought back the habaneras from his visit to Cuba and when Bizet used "El Arreglito" for his French opera "Carmen."
Many of the well-known dance styles such as rumba, salsa, mambo, chachacha, reportedly began in Cuba. In the coming years the rediscovery of Cuban artists, which began in the 90s with the popular "Buena Vista Social Club" album and Wim Wender's 1999 movie about the band, will very likely continue. And, if you're interested in the island's music and are maybe even considering a visit, the MyCubavisit.com website will give you some worthwhile information and insights.
This is our 200th blog post. Every January, we'll publish our 10 most popular blogs of the previous year.
2014 has been a wonderful year at GamesForLanguage, not just because we've grown our number of followers on Facebook and Twitter, but - as of December 2014 - our blog has gotten over 36,000 views.
Thanks for your interest and support! That's what fuels us - as well as the thousands of monthly visitors that come to our free language learning site.
We started GamesForLanguage 4 years ago as an experiment combining (fun) games and (serious) language learning for adults - and enlisted native speakers of French, Italian, and Spanish to our team. Yes, language games are very popular with kids, but we've been delighted by the positive and constructive feedback that teens and adults have given us about our approach. We always want to hear from you, and we'll get back to you quickly.
We look forward to another great year. It'll include creating new courses and lots of new Quick Games. Last but not least, we're both going for a spurt to fluency in Spanish and for a fresh start with a new language - Swedish for Ulrike and Dutch for Peter. It's a good way to stay sharp and humble, language learning wise.
While several of the posts date back to previous years, it's surprising that #10 "Not enough time? Really? Language Learning and Setting Priorities" made it on the list, as it was only published on December 17, 2014. Apparently this post hit a nerve.
The La Paloma post has been a frontrunner since it was published in June 2013. Learning a language via well-known songs is clearly compelling. There are several other websites using this idea.
We recently published a post on French Social Media terms and are interested to see how it does this year. Social Media sites continue to be great places to practice and improve a language and being familiar with social media language is a good tool.
We welcome your comments and suggestions for new blog post topics! Wishing you an excellent and fun new language learning year!