Yo entiendo Espanol. This is a dubious statement, of course. There have been many times where I am gliding through a conversation and I don’t understand what the other is saying. There have been less times where I have made it through a conversation with a close to complete understanding of the interaction. Nonetheless, I fault my lack of exposure to spanish speakers rather than a genuine lack of understanding. I understood Spanish and I can understand it again.
I spent around 5 years taking Spanish classes. They reinforced comman nouns and verbs into my mind that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I did not, however, learn to string sentences together on the fly. I could not coherently understand what another speaker was saying and then respond to it. Thus, I could not say that I knew Spanish.
When I was in Copenhagen I made a friend, Manuel. Manuel was a young guy from Honduras who smoked chronically and spoke incessantly on the corruptions of American imperialism. Prior to my visit to Spain, Manuel and I practiced Spanish together. I also met a girl from Honduras, Bella. She had very little experience with English and so we spent most of our conversations speaking in Spanish. This sparked my second attempt at learning a language.
After finishing my senior year of college I was still quite keen on traveling abroad. Once I was accepted into medical school I decided I was going to travel to South America. However, even before this I had begun spending much of my free time attempting to learn a new language. I experimented with a whole host of applications from Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. I finally settled on Michel Thomas. Michel Thomas created CD’s of him grumpily explaining the concepts of a language and then quickly following up those explanations with mini quizzes. He would teach you something and then continuously ask you to recall what he taught you. This was already my favorite way to learn new concepts in school, so it spoke to me. After completing the tapes I had a sense of confidence in both past present and future tenses. I took a plane to Bogota Colombia.
Immediately I felt inadequate. My Spanish was capable of producing results. I could explain to someone that I was lost or have a conversation about where I was from. There were many holes in my lexicon and it became apparent as I spoke to more and more people. There were certain people who I met that did not speak a lick of English. These were the most helpful as there was no need to accommodate there attempts at English.
Overall, I tried three different approaches at learning a language. Each subsequent approach was more effective than the previous. If I wanted to learn another language, I would first listen to some tapes. I would then visit a country. It is a bit disheartening, however, because the language escapes you quite quickly. Remembering words and grammer patterns of a language you don’t use is a lot like holding on to water with your bare hands. Some if it sticks with you but most of it quietly disappears.