On Learning A New Language

Que sais-je? (What do I know?)Montaigne

On answering that famous question as it relates to my stuttering progress in learning Spanish, the result would have to be “La mujer tiene el perro grande azul” or perhaps easier “Not much”. My vocabulary is growing at about the same rate as my ability to butcher the syntax and grammar which I think is an asymptotic function approaching infinity. Nouns are easy but the correct usage of the nouns in a sentence that doesn’t involve me commenting on the sexual ability of the Pope seems to be a great deal harder. I haven’t ever looked into the acquisition of a language by the average human but I suppose this is normal. We relate to the things around us. Long before Will Shakespeare expressed the tragedy of doomed love, it made more sense to be able to yell “Sabretooth Tiger!” which I think in the colloquial Spanish I have acquired would be “Tigre diente grande comido Bob!”. I can look around the room and identify things but I’ll be damned if I could tell you to bring me 10 yellow apples. Using my Spanish as it currently stands would involve a killer game of charades.

I am starting to pick up the verbs and syntax necessary to find my way to the bathroom should I find myself in Mexico with Montezuma’s revenge but it is painfully slow. For example, I can now ask you “Who has the six blue bicycles?” and tell you “The doctor has the six blue bicycles” (leaving aside the unspoken question of why the doctor would have six blue bicycles which is better anyway since I have no idea how to ask that). I could probably order eggs and potatoes and sausage for breakfast (only because the guy who runs the deli in my building helps me with my Spanish) but the eggs would likely be sunny side up (“Huevos cielo upe?”) when I wanted them boiled.

To aid in my acquisition of the language, I bought a Spanish reader, probably fit for a four year old. It is fully of cute stories (I presume, they could be about serial killers for all I know) about chickens who walked into the woods and whatnot (“Un dia, es pollo entra en el bosque y estaba frito” which is either a cooking joke or a meth joke, depending on how you interpret it). But the reading part isn’t the hard part. I am starting to be able to get the gist of the story with only 40 or 50 visits to FreeTranslation.com but again, this is an artifact of picking up vocab much faster than grammar. The really hard part comes when Rosetta Stone decides it’s time to get me to write something. Then I have to try and pick my way through the words I know and start randomly throwing verbs into the equation, hoping to get the tense and masculine/feminine out of sheer luck or perseverance (or cheating, they will show you the answers if you beg and manage to hit the right button which saved me from throwing my laptop through the window several times in the last lesson). The fact that I’m thinking about masculine and feminine is probably a sign that I’m doing it wrong.

They say (who “they” are is beyond the scope of this essay but I like to think of “them” as “Those assholes who learned more than one language that didn’t involve Latin in high school”) that adults learn languages differently from children. This makes sense as if you’ve ever hung out with children much, they are less worried about whether the pelota is masculine or feminine and more interested in kicking the hell out of it. The trick to learning a language as an adult (says the guy writing an entire essay analyzing the struggles of learning a new language) seems to be to leave aside the rules and the internal critic. Trying to determine the rules is a losing battle as it leads to paralysis. Far better to dive in and kick the pelota amarilla and see what happens.

Camping at Cooper Lake South Sulfur Unit

Last weekend, we took our first camping trip of the fall. We initially were going to go to Doctors Creek on the north side of Cooper lake but ended up switching to South Sulfur because there was more room and they had several programs on Saturday to see. Initially, there were going to be 5-7 people but in the end, it was just three of us and the dog. Mara and I drove up on Thursday night and set up camp. It was Halloween night so we had a little trouble escaping all the little candy monsters in the neighborhood which meant we didn’t get to camp until about 9:15.

We had camped in the Big Star section of the park last year and chose that again when we arrived. We pretty much had it to ourselves on Thursday night which I suppose is fairly common for the school year. We stayed in the same site, #13 which has a nice access path to the lake. The lake is extremely low right now, 13 feet or more, and it has started to look like a wasteland in many places. Both fishing piers are completely out of the water and the boat ramp in South Sulfur is closed.

We had camp set up by 11 and called it a night without a fire. Friday, we cooked breakfast and hung around the camp most of the morning. Around 12, I looked online for geocaches in the area and found one on the main trail in South Sulfur (N 33° 17.353 W 095° 38.707). So we set off for our first geocaching adventure. Once we figured out the GPS, it was pretty straightforward. It’s fun to search for the cache once you get to where you think it might be hidden. We found it after about 5-10 minutes and left our information in the log book. You are supposed to leave a family friendly item in the cache once you find it and after raiding my hunting backpack, we left a handwarmer in exchange for a little plastic toy. The log book mentioned a bonus cache which we went looking for but were unable to find.

After the hike, we headed back to camp to cook a late lunch of burgers. Our friend showed up around 4:30 and the rest of the evening was spent around the campfire. A cold front came through in the early evening with north winds pretty strong off the lake. It was a cold night in a mostly summer tent. In the future, if the weather calls for a cold front, we probably won’t stay at campsite #13 where the wind can blow straight off the lake.

Saturday morning, he and I went to the first program of the day given by the park interpreter. It was on birding. However, the campground had filled up with a very large cub scout troop from Richardson so it was as much about managing a large crowd of hyperactive boys as it was about birding. It was interesting and I learned about the Chuck-Will’s-Widow. There has been a mysterious animal making noises at home right around dusk and into the night. I’ve always wondered what it was. Turns out, it’s a Chuck-Will’s-Widow. So all was not lost at the birding seminar.

We made a trip to the Sulphur Springs WalMart for supplies after the seminar. After that adventure, we had lunch and then we returned for another program at 2:30 on the trees of the area. This time, even more cub scouts had shown up. I’d guess that at least 50 of them were there with chaperones. We all tramped along the Honey Creek nature trail learning about Honey Locust, White and Red oak families, red cedars, wild cheery, persimmon and plum trees among others.

We made campfire chili for dinner which involves pouring cornbread on top of chili in a dutch oven which allows the cornbread to cook nicely. We sat around the fire warding off the cold with hot chocolate.

Sunday morning, we packed up camp and headed back home. The South Sulphur unit is a good camping site for families and has a great park interpreter. It’s a short drive from Dallas and is worth checking out. However, with the lake so low, it’s hard to do any fishing if you are interested in that.

Notes On From Dawn To Decadence

Notes from my train ride in while reading From Dawn To Decadence:

Girolamo Savonarola was a Dominican friar whose campaign for religious reform included bonfires of the vanities, burning books, musical instruments and more.

Machiavelli’s La Mandragola was an early classic comedy.

16C music was the defining point between harmony and polyphony.

Books to read include The English Poets Volume II and An Essay on French Verse for Readers of English Poetry