FOLLOWING the example of former President Jimmy Carter, I’ve taken the plunge and enrolled in Spanish language classes at the Centro de Idiomas here in Leon, Spain.
The former US leader and his wife – both in their 90s – continue to reinforce their language skills, reading to each other in bed at night.
His tenacity for continued learning torpedoes my fallback position that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, although it’s true that the earlier you start a new language, the easier it is to acquire.
Under his administration a policy of bilingual education was introduced, primarily for native Spanish speakers coming to the US with the hope that they would learn English and become American citizens.
He stated at the time that: “My wife and I study Spanish, and we encourage our children to learn Spanish, because it’s becoming a very important language throughout the world.”
I doubt that I’ll ever be fluent; advancing years mean that for me as new information goes in, old information goes out, so what I learned yesterday gets overwritten with what I learned today.
My aim for the next few months is to get beyond the limits of “dos cervezas, por favor” and to be able to engage in a basic level of conversational Spanish.
To help, I’ve been using an app called Memrise which starts off free but quickly requires biting the bullet and stumping up $45 for a year’s access.
It’s a wonderful aid that makes use of digital tools to put some fun into learning, or as much fun as learning Spanish grammar can be.
The app developers also recently incorporated augmented reality as an additional tool, a bit gimmicky but anything that helps is welcome.
You point your phone at an object and its name appears on screen in the chosen language you are learning – Spanish being one of 19 to choose from.
It’s not perfect, it misidentifies some things, but it came up trumps in naming a chair, a lamp, a backpack and a book and it’s easier than sticking Post-it notes on things around the house.
The other app I’ve found helpful is SayHi. You opt to either type or speak into your device and then get both a written translation and an audio version so you can correctly pronounce what you wanted to say.
Both need a data connection to work so if you’re at the fish market, can’t make yourself understood and don’t have a roaming package they aren’t much help. But they do perform with Wi-Fi and are useful ways to widen vocabulary and memorize phrases. In my case I need all the help I can get. Wish me luck!