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Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday The 13th!

Friday the 13th was the last day of my Spanish course. While I am not superstitious, the date was discussed in our conversation class. The amusing tidbit that I learned was that in Uruguay rather than Friday the 13th being quote unquote "un lucky!" it's Tuesday the 13th that is supposedly bad luck! I don't watch "horror films"but a famous horror film series, "Friday the 13th", featuring the psychotic mask wearing killer "Jason" changed it's posters to advertise here as the series, "Martes 13th" (Tuesday) and not "Viernes 13th" (friday). Some posters said, Viernes (Friday) but most people here know the film series as "Martes 13". The fear factor of the supposedly dangerous day would have been lost on the masses here had the title remained a Friday, so the day was changed to reflect the Uruguayan culture.

Another thing discussed in my conversation class Friday was not so much a superstition but rather the custom or habit of eating "Tortas Fritas" (similar to a deep fried tortilla) only when it rains! "Quiero comer una torta frita cuando está lloviendo." ("I want to eat a torta frita when it is raining"). That seems to be a common saying here in Uruguay. This lead to a discussion of verbs related to food usage. The useful verb "to take/to have" or tomar in Spanish is used (among other ways, such as to take a seat/tomar asiento), when you are going to take something to drink. It seems that you can take a drink in Spanish but it's not used as much with food. The exception is that you can take a meal like breakfast (desayuno) but not the food in general. Instead, you eat food, not take it ! Tomar is the verb you use when inviting someone out for a cup of coffee or a cocktail. "Querés tomar café conmigo?" Or, you can use the verb "beber"( to drink). El Desayuno is the noun meaning breakfast. Whatever time your first meal of the day is, that meal is considered your breakfast. Whether it's 3 o'clock in the morning or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, if it's your first meal, it's breakfast (El Desayuno). Desayuno is also the first person, present form of the verb Desayunar. So desayuno is both a noun and a conjugated verb form. "I eat breakfast at 8 o'clock in the morning!" That sentence in Spanish is, "Desayuno a las ocho por la mañana!" Or, you could say"Tomo (I take/have) el desayuno a las ocho por la mañana."

 Note; I'll probably get a lot of corrections on this subject of tomar and as always I'll welcome and learn from them. So feel free to comment!

My first word I ever learned here in Uruguay was "Tranquilo" meaning "calm or quiet" it can also be used to mean, "don't worry". My second word that I learned here was "temprano" or "early", when I kept arriving at a local restaurant too early to be served dinner. Well, the opposite of early (temprano) is late (tarde). Here in my Spanish conversation class with my professor Juan, I learned that a Uruguayo is never late (unless dead)! Instead a Uruguayo "arrives late"(llegar tarde). Always, use the word "llegar" and it's conjugations, in order to say you have arrived late, no, never say that you are late!

My last day in class passed by without too much fanfare. The other students were all taking a full 4 week's worth of instruction, so they would be back to school on Monday of the next week. One student, only in his second week of the school course was doing quite well. My three "some" years of living here in Uruguay gave me only a slight advantage with vocabulary and verb endings because of my self study. I am at a beginner's intermediate level. I was given a written evaluation of my progress at the end of my last day.
I will miss going into Montevideo each day (not necessarily the bus ride there). The neighborhood and the street where the school was on was quite treed and lovely. On my way to school each day, I loved taking photos of the many interesting monuments and street scenes happening around me in the capital city, MVD. I will try and put into practice the things I learned at La Herradura, the Spanish school.

While I only attended school for a week what the school helped me to do the most, was force me to speak Spanish for lengths at a time. While attending school there, I tried to string more words together than I had been doing in the past. Rather than grunt 1 or 2 words, I really tried to speak in whole sentences. I was able to follow the flow of a conversation much better since I was forced to listen to the whole week's course in Spanish. The price of the weeks' course meant that I could try the school out. If I had more resources (meaning money) I would definitely sign up for a fuller study in Spanish.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 2 Of Spanish School!

The view from my classroom window.

My Spanish language school, La Herradura is located in the Capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo. I live in a little coastal town (Marindía) some 40 kilometers away from the capital. It takes me 1 and 1/2 hours to get to my school by bus.

Well, I decided to take advantage of my bus-ride into Montevideo and use the time to do my homework, assigned to me on the prior day. Yeah, that means that I didn't do it at home, my bad. However, the upside of my preparing it on the bus was that I got a lot of  help from my fellow passengers! I guess I was feeling a little self-conscious and didn't want to look like an illiterate adult while doing my homework so I mentioned to the total stranger sitting next to me that I was doing homework for a school teaching me to speak Spanish. I showed her my question and answer assignment and soon several people around me were explaining and providing answers, oops I mean help (smile). It was great! After all, the reason I'm attending classes is to be able to have conversations with the Spanish speaking people of Uruguay!

After finally arriving in Montevideo and at the school's door, I awaited to be buzzed in, as is the case with most buildings in the city. I had time to admired the ornate doorknob on the school's front door and take it's picture. Unlike the day before, this time I was early! Allen one of the students attending this week let me in. He has taken advantage of the school's program to live onsite while attending classes which means he's never late to school due to traffic. I asked him, what's it like living at the school, he is staying for an entire month of classes. He said, "well, it's not like staying at a fine hotel (said somewhat sarcastically)  but in comparison to a hotel it is very reasonable". 

There is a kitchen at the school that you can cook your meals in and a salon with a large table you and others can eat at. There's a TV in this dinning salon that has a stack of DVD movies in Spanish next to it, to watch after school hours. There's a computer station you can use and more importantly there are people to help you arrange activities outside of class to help you fully immerse  in the Spanish experience. Allen is taking the Spanish/Tennis combination course. Margo, the school's proprietor has a husband who is more than willing to be your tennis partner. The tennis courts are close to the school.

My classes are held in the morning from 9:00 am to 1:20pm. We have a 20 minute break between the first 2 hour, verb class and the second, two hour conversation class. This 20 minute break allows us to rest our brains, to snack and more importantly to wait for Juan our second Spanish teacher to arrive. He's worth the wait!

Juan is from Uruguay and he is teaching us, all of the insider Spanish tips that regular Spanish books just don't reveal. Particularly, he is sharing the Rioplatense type of Spanish spoken here in Uruguay and in Argentina. Juan is very charming, funny and patient with us. He is very smart and has attended a German language school, so in addition to his native Spanish, he speaks excellent English and surprisingly good German, so say, the two German speaking students attending my class, they were impressed . Juan learned to speak German because there are so many Germans living here in Uruguay. 

Juan told us how people in Spain or Mexico would say something in Spanish and how people in Uruguay would say something. Apparently, they never use/say, carro (car), here in Uruguay, that's what they would say in Mexico! We say auto or coche here. In restaurants you might like to know that Churrasco is the word used here to say steak (it's thicker than a fillet).

I got help in understanding the word "sos" from Juan. Sos; while those three letters may look like the Morse Code symbol for HELP (. . .  _ _ _  . . . ), it's also a word, used in "Rioplatense" Spanish to mean "you are" or in a question form "are you"?(from the verb, ser, "to be"). You can spend hours trying to find that word in your verb books but to no avail. Instead, under the verb heading Ser you will see listed,"eres"in the present tense. Eres, is used for the informal you/tú form of "to be". However, if you are friends with a native Uruguayan or are taught Rioplatense Spanish by a Uruguayan teacher like Juan, this word will not be a mystery to you.  Here in Uruguay, you will see that word (sos) used in all kinds of advertisements and you'll hear that word used a lot down here. Sos and never eres, is what your friends will say to you. So instead of saying, "Where are you from?"/"De dónde eres?" People in Uruguay will say, "Where are you from?"/ "De dónde sos?" Here in Uruguay, they also use the word Vos in place of the pronoun Tú (familiar you form). For emphasize, you might hear "sos and vos used together. So one might say, "De dónde sos vos?" (Where are you from?)  So, I enjoyed learning that today!

Because of Juan, I can finally understand the meaning of a local billboard that is used to advertise a popular grocery store here. The Tienda Inglesa store's sign, posted on the highway, uses the phrase "Lo qué querés". I already knew that lo qué means what but I could never figure out on the drive to the store (as I passed the sign) what Querés was. I sort of knew, it must be from the verb querer to mean to want but in none of the 14 tenses in my verb book  under "to want" was that word listed! Querés is the Rioplatense use of the familiar you/tú form quieres (you want). No friend of yours who speaks Rioplatense Spanish would ever use the word "quieres" (you want) to you even-though that's the only word your verb book shows. Instead they would say, querés. For instance, they might ask you, "Querés irte" meaning, "you want to leave?"but not "Quieres irte?" like a verb book would have you  believe! In the case of the giant highway sign, the store, Tienda Inglesa has,"what you want!"(lo qué querés) and it's written that way in giant letters in Rioplatense Spanish. An expat friend of ours has a teenage son and because his son has friends who are Uruguayan, and who come over to his house a lot, he learned of this word. However, as a foreigner you would have to have a good ear to pick out that word difference and then have it explained to you.

Because we are still learning verbs, Juan also includes them and their forms in his conversation lessons. This helps us form sentences. As beginners you have to constantly learn new words in Spanish to add to your vocabulary and it was fun learning new food words and meal terms. We learned how to order items at a restaurant in our pretend dialogs, Use the word "Quisiera", when ordering in a restaurant, it's a special form or way of saying, "I would like..."(it's not conditional). It's politer than just using Quiero "I want...". 

Wally has been delighted with what I've been learning as I share with him each night a new tidbit. It's been a good experience so far. I'll make one last post on the school, when I have finished out my week's course. Let's hope for the best! Stay tuned for my last installment!   

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spanish School, My First Day!

Well, like the title says, I finished my first day of Spanish School!

I  attended a week long Intensive language course at a Spanish Language Institute called La Herradura. I had promised you readers in another post that I would be giving you several updates on my progress (or lack of it) in this school. After attending my first day of class I'm happy to say, there is hope for me yet in learning Spanish!

My school day began as I walked out my front door at 6:30 in the morning in order to walk to a bus stop and catch a 7 o'clock bus on the main highway (or Ruta in Spanish). My good friend Carolina informed me that I should catch a bus that said Directo (direct) on it's windshield Marquee. The local bus #709 comes with and without this distinction so I had to be careful and watch for the Directo #709 bus and take that one into Montevideo where the school is located. The school is on a street called, Dr. Joaquin Salterain and the cross street is Guaná.

In looking at a city map, the school is somewhat in the area near the shopping mall/bus terminal called "Tres cruces" (or 3 crosses). There is a giant cross erected across the street from this mall, marking where 3 streets come together. When I first came here I kept looking for the other 2 crosses thinking that the words "tres cruces" meant 3 literal crosses, but no, there is only the one located at this juncture.

The bus ride (from my town Marindía), in the past, has usually taken only an hour to get to the city capital, Montevideo but I forgot that I would be riding the bus during the morning's rush-hour. That's why taking a direct bus which means it doesn't stop at every bus stop along the way was so important time wise. My classes start at 9:00am. each morning. I thought that allowing myself 2 hours for the journey would be enough. I didn't count on the traffic or the fact that there was a fender bender (an accident) which caused my bus to take a detour. I now know what the other side of Roosevelt Park looks like. Well, the bus arrived at Tres Cruces after a one and a half hour bus ride. I went into the mall to quickly use the baño (bathroom) is this too much information??? Then I walked to the school some 9 blocks from this mall. I didn't want to get lost on my first day so I took the main blvd. General Artigas (which runs next to the mall) to the school's street. I ended up being 10 minutes late to class! Rats, on my first day late too, I hate that. Okay, I'm holding it in next time!

I met my fellow classmates. I can really use the word "fellow" classmates as I was the only female present this day. One married couple was suppose to attend this week, which would have meant two females present in class but unfortunately they first visited Argentina and they were robbed in Buenos Aires. This incident apparently "soured" them so much that they canceled their trip and never did bother to come to Uruguay. It's a shame that another country's experience kept them from attending this school and visiting this country. So just a warning, whenever traveling be circumspect and mind your belongings and who is near you.

Normally, the language classes have 6 people assigned to them (to keep them manageable), with the absence of the "robbed couple" my class ended up having only the 4 of us beginners attending, myself and the 3 gentlemen. One of my classmates is a Texan (from the USA state of Texas). He is a lawyer and has just retired. He is shopping around, so to speak, for a country to consider retiring in permanently so he is visiting Uruguay. Another student has been living in Canada, He speaks English. He is of German decent and as a child was sent to a German school so he knows some German. He is writing for a professional website about Uruguay. My third classmate is a German man from Berlin he and his wife actually teach German but he is looking to improve his Spanish. All of them declined to have their pictures taken. I respected that so I have also left out their names. You realize, that there are millions of Texans, Germans and Canadians so their anonymity is still safe.  Still,  I wanted to show you the type of people who attend these classes.

My classes are 4 hours long each day, with a 20 minute break in-between. My first teacher is from Spain. She is a woman, so I was not really the only woman in the room. The first 2 hours of the class are spent on learning verbs but not necessarily on conjugating them but rather on learning the principals to guide you in knowing how and when to use each one. Most Spanish students come across such confusing concepts as the 4 different verb words meaning to be ,Ser, EstarHay (there is/are) and Tener (to have). Tener is kind of tricky as it means, "to have" but in many Spanish phrases it is used as (we would say in English) "to be". For instance, In Spanish you would hear "I have cold" but in English we would translate that as "I am cold". So in some instances Tener can mean "to have" and in other cases is used as "to be". We practiced and learned how to chose between these many forms concentrating on the differences between Ser and Estar. We also made up sentences using them. All in Spanish. We were given a homework assignment  or Deberes.

My class is conducted only in Spanish, on purpose! It's an "Intensive course". This way you are "forced" to communicate. It's the way a child would learn his native tongue. The mother starts speaking her language to the child and when he or she doesn't understand a concept or a word, she explains it by using illustrations, hand and facial gestures, other words and other sentences until the child "gets it". The teachers were very patient with me when I asked them to repeat (Repetir) again and again something that I wasn't "getting". Finally I understood what I was supposed to. Yeah!

In my next post, I'll introduce you to my afternoon class's teacher. He is a native Uruguayan and he added some real insider language tips on how Uruguayans say things versus people from Spain. Since I am living here in Uruguay and not Spain I really appreciate those kinds of tidbits that one cannot find in the formal Spanish language books. I like the Rioplatense sounding Spanish and I am glad to finally have some of the great mysteries of this language explained to me.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Language Test!

I was tested today, it was a literal test. Let me explain!

In choosing to retire to Uruguay you would think that I would have prepared for the move by learning Spanish but no! Wally never gave me a heads up that we would retire to a Spanish speaking country, so I never had a chance to learn Spanish before moving here. Instead, true to our nature, we sold our cars, goods and house (3 times, since 2 of the house sales fell through) all in about 6 months time. Ending one life and starting another in such a short time span left me little time to study. To my credit, I did get the "Rosetta Stone" CD course to introduce me to the language. Nevertheless, I know that other expats have prepared for years before coming here by taking Spanish courses. Many expats, after arriving here (in Uruguay), continue this language challenge by obtaining tutors and taking private lessons.

Now, I am not the sort of person who thinks that the whole world has to adapt to them. Rather, I know that I have to adapt to Uruguay. I have always intended to speak the language. For instance, I never go into a store and ask if someone speaks English and can they come and help me. Instead, I apologize beforehand that I don't speak Spanish very well and then I just launch into what I'm trying to say, in Spanish. It has worked so far. People often ask me how long I've been here. It was great in the beginning when I could say 1 month or 3. It was even kind of cute, my trying to speak back then, when I was so fresh and new here. Then 1 year passed, then another. At 3 years I knew I had better take a dictionary in hand, verb books and even "Spanish for Dummies" (hey, I'm not proud) and start in earnest to learn. Last week, I got a rude awakening when Wally mentioned that it will soon be 4 years since our arriving in Uruguay. Okay, that did it, full on depression set in. I need help! Not psychiatric help but Spanish Language help!

That's why I have decided to take on an experiment and you readers can experience it too. I'm going to take an "Intensive Language course". It's only for 1 week but it's a full immersion course at a "real" language institute. The school is located in Montevideo, it is called "La Herradura". Click on the school's name to view the website of the official representatives of this school for the USA and for Canada (Lingua Service Worldwide, Ltd.) , their contact phone number is 1 800 394 5327 (for the US and Canada). What's interesting about this link is that they offer language courses in various countries around the world, like learning to "speak French in France, Italian in Italy, Japanese in Japan, etc..." They can also arrange for accommodations to stay at the various worldwide language schools they represent or with a "host family" in the country you chose to study in. They offer Spanish learning schools in both Spain and Uruguay! What makes that so interesting, is that the Spanish spoken here is slightly different than that spoken in Spain. That's because they speak what's known here as Rioplatense or Spanish accented with the sounds from the Rio de la Plata region. Argentina speakers have this same "flavor" to their speech. The language when heard by other people has a lot of "shh" sounds to it because both the double ll and the are spoken here with a "shh" sound instead of a "y" sound. So yo,  (meaning I) sounds like shho here. They also use the informal word "vos" (meaning you) here which is not in widespread use in Spain. So I will learn to speak Spanish with a Rio de la Plata Uruguayan accent!

The classes, I'll be taking at La Herradura will be 4 hours a day! Monday through Friday, with back to back lessons. They will be divided between grammar and conversation classes with 6 to 8 students attending the class. Only 6 people attend the grammar portion and 8 people join the conversation group. Solely Spanish is allowed to be spoken in class. That's one of the reasons it can be called a full immersion class. They also have courses for children. The course I'm taking (intensive), costs US$185 for the full week (4 hours per day). The next level up was called a "Super-intensive" course. That one is held for 6 hours a day, a group class, it costs, US$275, for the week. That sounded too scary to me and was more expensive than my choice but no doubt is very much worth it. I'm going in at the bottom level which should make this all the more interesting to post about and perhaps might encourage others in my same financial circumstances to check out such a language school. For others more daring, this school also offers Spanish courses in connection with activities. A Spanish and Tennis combination course, or Spanish and golf and most interestingly, a Spanish and horse training internship with a gaucho! (near Atlántida) These are some of the unusual combo language courses offered!!!

During the week that I attend classes, I will make several posts about my classes, taking and posting pictures. I will describe the various days and their activities. That way if any of you have ever wondered or hesitated about what such a course and institute is like you can "peek" inside via my postings!  

Since Wally doesn't have as hard a time learning Spanish as I do, he has agreed to stay home and send me solo to this school during the week's course. He came with me to the school this time in order to check it out and take a tour while I took a "placement" Spanish test. By my taking a test the professors can tell what level to start me at. I said that I was a beginner but after that test they will probably have to put me in a "special" person's category (if you know what I mean) because I know for a fact that I got at least a quarter of the answers wrong.  I had a blank moment. I made the test harder than it was by using the future verb tense rather than the present tenseThe word,  indicative or indicativo in Spanish as they called it was on the test. I wished the test had just used the word, "present tense" instead of using the word "indicative". Apparently I have to relearn English grammar terms again. I thought that word meant "future" so I answered all of those questions using the future verb forms. Yet, I do know the present tense forms. I guess it was just test freeze. I was trying to be too smart for my own britches. So with those results I really will be in a Beginner class.  You can take the placement test online! I should have peeked at the test ahead of time and just relaxed and figured it out without any of my self imposed pressures. So if you want to look at the placement test just click on this live link. Test!

To say that I am both nervous and excited to be going to a school to improve my Spanish is an understatement. I know that it's only for 1 week which helps to keep the course from being too scary for me.

So, stay tuned and let's go back to school together! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This Week In Uruguay

This week in Uruguay goes by many different names. On my store bought calendar this whole week, is highlighted in yellow. Starting from Sunday April 2nd till Sunday April 8th, it is called Semana Santa or holy week as it contains the Passover celebration and the Celebration for commemorating the Memorial and meal (last supper) of Christ's death. Uruguay is a slightly socialistic country with non- religious leanings. This means that despite it's being a Latin American country, the Catholic church for instance, does not hold sway as it normally would do so in other Latin countries. So, in general this week in Uruguay (except on my calendar) is called Tourism week.

Tourism week is a fun fill vacation week for a majority of workers here. Museums offer specials hours. Historic houses are open to the public and the annual rodeo expo is in town for the entire week.

The Semana Criolla is a week that is dedicated to the gaucho. It's in it's 87th year now. Each year in Montevideo, the local fairgrounds called, El Prado holds competitions in roping and other cowboy skills.  In another location the local park called Roosevelt (named after Franklin D. Roosevelt) also holds some small attractions like food and crafts booths. I hear however that the Prado is the best place to go to. However, the park maybe something to dash into cheaply with your kids for a few minutes as it is located across the street from the Géant mall.

Many different attractions are offered for the vacationing masses this week. If you like to walk, there are various walking tours to join in this week. Each day at the fair you can buy a ticket and take a guided walking tour to various sights of interest in Montevideo I am including a link to the official government event site for this Criolla week (click here).

There is also a "Friends of the Railway" sponsored train trip that Wally and I will be shortly posting on. This week has been slightly less rainy than usual for this time of year. That's why this year, I wanted to take advantage of the Criolla week.

As mentioned this week is also the annual celebration of the memorial of Christ's death so I would be remiss not to let you readers know that wherever you are in the world, this Thursday night April 5, 2012, starting after sundown, your local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses is inviting you to join them as they observe this tradition of passing the unleavened bread around and the wine representing Christ's body and his new covenant by means of his blood. It's free, no donations are asked. The service is less than an hour. Bring your Bible if you have one, so you can follow along.

Our Hall serves Salinas, Marindía and I believe Pinamar. There is another hall in Atlántida near the clinic Medico Uruguaya. Check their schedule for that meeting time. Our Salinas Congregation is on the North side of the ruta. To find us go on the same road as the Salinas Arch but cross the highway. Now that you are on the North-side go to the first street to the left (MVD direction) and travel along that street for many blocks until you see our Hall on the right side of that street. The Salinas Congregation's street address is on Yamandu (between Magaluna and Zapicán). The celebration will be held twice that night to accommodate the many visitors expected. You can choose to go at either, 18:30 (6:30pm) or at 20:00 (8:00pm).  We hope to see some of you there at this important occasion. You can read in the Bible of the account at Luke chapter 22 verses 19 and 20.