I took my first Spanish lesson in college 53 years ago. This past month I have been reviewing advanced beginners’ Spanish in preparation for a trip to the Amazon, still struggling with the difference between llevar and llegar. I am what you might generously call a “lifelong learner,” though time might be running out on fluency.
I have taken night classes, online classes, internet classes, classes by CD—the whole enchilada. On long drives I used to enjoy Coffee Break Spanish with Mark Pentleton, a congenial Scotsman with a terrific Spanish accent and a command of several languages. I have tried Duolingo (meh) and Babbel (pretty good). The method I have used that works best for me is unfortunately the most annoying:the Michel Thomas Method. Touted as “The Language Teacher to the Stars,” Thomas uses a format that involves himself as the teacher and two students—one a fast learner and the other a real dummy. I’m not quite sure why he chose that method unless it was to make listeners feel like they weren’t quite so stupid after all. Also, it gives Michel more time to make the slow learner try repeatedly to get it right. The funny part is that The Language Teacher to the Stars is easily and obviously exasperated with the hapless student. Listening while I drove to Sacramento recently, I began to feel quite sorry for the hapless student and, conversely, resentful of the smug smartie.
What makes Michel Thomas’s method better than others I’ve tried is that he focuses on a few commonly used nouns, verbs and prepositions so that it’s possible to string them together in useful, comprehensible sentences, even if you know only 25 or 30 words of a given language. [Once, after only a week of French with Michel, I was able to ask a sales clerk, “Avez vous des jeans plus grands?”] I bet you can figure that one out.
This week, in preparation for life in the Amazon I am practicing Spanish for “Is that– snake, spider, llama–dangerous?” (Es la serpiente, añana, llama peligrosa?) Good luck (buena suerte) to me!