Along with all the local children, it was back to school for a new term for me this week.
I’ve written before about the language school in Colmenar. Axalingua is run by two brothers, Juan-Mi and Pepe. Juan-Mi teaches me in a weekly one-to-one session (where he struggles to correct the street language I learn in between from friends and neighbours). 65 – Spanish in the Barrio.
Apparently I’m Level B1. There are tests on the internet which you struggle through until you feel ready to slit your wrists, and the point at which you hurl your laptop across the room reflects the level you are at.
This first one is good, with lots of questions at each level. Unfortunately it doesn’t tell you which one(s) you get wrong, which is frustrating. http://www.spanish-test.net/spanish-test.php
This one is better on two counts – there are just ten questions per level, and it gives you the correct answers to those you get wrong. http://www.cervantes.to/cgi-bin/test-2011.pl
I’m studying B1. As far as I can understand, A1 is for beginners, and I think A2 must go up as far as the equivalent of GCSE, which I took some years ago in Dorset. I seem to be a bit stuck at B1 level – I was considered to be B1 three years ago when I did a week’s intensive course in Madrid. The trouble is that although I’m speaking the language a lot, every day, I am (of course) making many mistakes, and most of the people I am talking to are not correcting me. My only feedback comes from my weekly lesson with Juan-Mi (and we’ve just had a 6-week summer break) and my twice-weekly inter-cambio sessions with Jose. These are much more structured and are the key to improving my correct use of Spanish grammar and vocabulary. 52 – Intercambio and Getting to Grips with Grammar
So I was a little frustrated by the fact that I think I’m improving, and my Spanish friends and neighbours think I’m improving, yet I’m still at B1 which Is where I was three years ago. Harrumph. This week I asked Juan-Mi why I didn’t seem to be improving on paper, and this triggered an interesting debate about learning a language for the sake of communication, and learning a language in order to pass exams. He said I am communicating at a much higher level, but would fail a higher exam because of errors – the kind of thing which nobody would notice in a conversational setting but which would knock me back in an exam.
Back to the classroom then, for me. Because although chatting on the doorsteps is the icing on the cake, the pleasurable objective of the learning process, I know I need the solid foundations which the grammar provides, so that all the tenses are produced at the right time, and all those wretched genders are correct. I remember a line from a training course I used to run, helping charities write more effective fundraising applications to charitable trusts ….. If you put a superfluous apostrophe in, or write “your” when you mean “you’re”, the reader stumbles instead of reading on smoothly, and your message is diminished because they are concentrating on the error and not the message.
And the same goes for a foreign language. I can be understood, but I can see that flash of a stumble in somebody’s face when I make a mistake, and in that moment they have lost concentration on what I am trying to communicate. I want to reduce the errors, to reduce the stumbles. Anyone interested in communication would want the same.
© Tamara Essex 2013