November 11, 2014

BARCELONA BLOG | ¡Qué chulo!

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By NATASHA HERRICK

“¡Qué chulo!” or “¡qué guay!” if you prefer. These are two ways of saying “how cool” in Spanish.  How cool is it that I am learning Spanish?  While many people in Barcelona speak Catalan, I am still able to learn Spanish because most Catalan people speak both languages. I am also learning Spanish, because I am taking an intensive language class and a Hispanic Studies class in Spanish.

I catch myself thinking in Spanish. For instance, when I bump into someone I find myself mumbling “perdón” or “lo siento,” without having to remember the translation. A friend told me her professor said you know you are reaching fluency when you can make jokes in another language and when you can have a nightmare in another language.  And guess what? I made my first joke in my Hispanic Studies class a few weeks ago.  My professor asked why sugar was so important during triangular trade with the “new world,” if we do not need sugar to live. I joked, “But, some of us do need sugar to live.” I am not sure if my attempt at retelling the story just now was funny, but I promise I made the professor and other students laugh in the moment. At first, I could count on one hand the number of times I had made a joke in Spanish, but now I have gotten past double digits. The jokes may be fairly simple and unoriginal, but it is exciting to know that I have picked up on the conversation and cues of those around me, in order to make a sarcastic comment here or there. In regards to the nightmare, I guess I am still waiting for that lucky moment.

While I am coming to terms with the fact that I will probably not reach fluency here, I am still hopeful that I might reach proficiency.  The first few days sitting in my Hispanic Studies class, I probably understood a third of what my professor was saying. I heard words here and there that I recognized, but there was no formal train of thought.  Now, I probably understand about two-thirds of what she is saying, though I have reached a stand still. I have gotten accustomed to my professor’s accent and speed while speaking. But in every class there have been sentences I do not understand, either because there are too many words I do not know, or I do not recognize the forms of the verbs. Another challenging aspect of taking a class in another language is making myself pay attention. Once I am lost as to what is going, it is easy to let my mind wander back to my comfortable and familiar thoughts in English.  However, I have struggled less with paying attention as I slowly acquire more vocabulary related to the class topics.

Also, in my regular Spanish language class it is easier to pay attention. Everyone is at my level of Spanish, and the professor speaks at a slower place. This class is exciting too. Every day I learn things that I was wondering how to say. I have some Spanish extended family and friends here, who I try to speak with in Spanish to practice my own. Sometimes when I text them, I find myself using the same grammar I learned in my Spanish class earlier that day. It is really cool when I am struggling to express my thoughts, only to realize I can use grammar I learned earlier that day to send my text. “¡Qué chulo!”

Natasha Herrick is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. She may be reached at nherrick@cornellsun.com.