Dec 23: Language Update

We got a lot of practice with our very limited Spanish language skills today due to visiting the home of a Dominican, hosting and Dominican to teach us how to make “Dominican Coffee” (hint: Make coffee. Add 1/3 to 1/2 sugar), and then another Dominican dropped by this evening to help us practice. The last person appears to have an upset stomach because he has been in our bathroom for the last hour and a half and is showing no signs of leaving anytime soon. I’m at least starting to feel like we can have a basic conversation with someone as long as the subject matter is fairly narrow and only in present tense.

Spanish is a very interesting language. It feels a lot more concise and precise than English. For example, verbs in Spanish have to be conjugated (ie. have the ending changed) to reflect both the person doing the action and when they did it. For this reason a single word will indicate who did what when. If I want to say “I am learning”, the one word “aprendo” will do! This is different from English where we don’t change verbs much, but simply add other words to indicate who and when. I think this is one of the reasons that automatic language conversion tools still have so much trouble. English just isn’t as precise about these little details and requires some context to interpret.

The challenge for us is that for every verb we learn we must typically learn 5 different endings for present tense, and endings for -ing, as well as the endings for past and future. Technically there can be as many as 55 different endings for a single verb, although in practice many follow similar patterns.  On the other hand, since only the endings are changing, this limits the number of unique words we have to learn.

Spanish is also simpler to read and spell since all vowels, and most consonants only have a single sound. This makes reading and spelling technically easy, although we still get some of the Spanish sounds mixed up with the English versions.

Understanding many (most) people is still difficult and we get lots of good laughs trying. A totally open ended conversion is also next to impossible as our vocabulary is still just too small. But if the person sticks to basic everyday activities, speaks in the present tense, and knows a bit of English, we can sometimes follow along.

Conclusion: we still have lots of work to go.

3 Comments »

  1. Comment by Mike King

    Estoy de acuerdo. Me gustan las reglas del español.

  2. Comment by Mike King

    BTW: Do you have a comment feed? Or perhaps you could add a recent comments sidebar widget. I always miss what others add, would be useful.

  3. Comment by Brad Davis

    Thanks for the great idea Mike. I’ve added a comment feed for those interested. You’ll have to use auto-discovery though (i.e. click the little RSS icon in your browser) as I’m going to leave it off the sidebar. You’ll also see recent comments listed in the sidebar now if you visit the site.

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