Thursday, July 10, 2008

Live from Santiago.

Earlier this year, when I told friends that I was thinking of spending the month of July in Chile to work on my Spanish, most of the responses I received fell into one of two categories. People who had never been to Chile and knew little of the country were usually very enthusiastic. Those who had some experience of the country or had spent time with Chileans were typically more cautious. Some opined that Chile was a great place to visit, except during winter - which is to say, except at the time when I planned to be there. Others praised the Chileans they knew for their kindness and hospitality, and then went on to note how incomprehensible Chilean Spanish could be to foreign ears.

Unfazed by the warnings of trusted friends, I went ahead with my plans to study Spanish in Santiago in ostensibly frigid July. Though temperatures have hovered in the thirties and forties for most of my days here, I haven`t found winter in Santiago to be all that daunting when contrasted with the many frigid and snowy winters I`ve lived through in the United States. As for the language, I`ve done alright so far despite the reputation that Chileans have for speaking fast and using a lot of slang. In any event, the Spanish that I`ve been studying at the Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile is grammatically correct and generally free of chilenismos, so I`m definitely learning something that I`ll be able to apply outside of Chile.

In my experience, learning a new language as an adult is fundamentally different from learning a new language as a child. Learning a language by full-time immersion is also quite different from learning in the insular confines of the classroom, especially when that classroom is the only place where you come into contact with the language you`re seeking to learn. Part of the challenge of learning a language as an adult in a full immersion situation is that one needs to be prepared to interact with other adults and to have conversations about adult topics from day one. I`ve been working to augment my Spanish vocabulary by reading daily newspapers and books in areas of interest, with the possibly unfortunate result that in Spanish I can converse more easily about politics, history and Jesuitica than I can about more practical topics like food and transportation. Living in community with Chilean Jesuits, I`m fortunate to have brothers who tolerate my linguistic limitations and comment favorably on whatever slow progress I might make in my spoken Spanish.

I hope to write more about my experiences in Chile as time permits. In the meantime, I hope all who read these lines will accept my very best wishes. AMDG.


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