My ongoing project of (re-)learning Spanish has hit something of a plateau. This is not particularly surprising: brute repetition is needed to fix many elements of reading, from recognizing the precise meaning of particular words, to recognizing the various shades of meanings a word can have, to properly identifying phrases and other grammatical units. (It is odd--and gratifying--to 'hear' those units when listening to a song or a broadcast.) But language proficiency is a long-term project, so the time spent in any particular stage is neither surprising nor problematic--if you know it's coming.

It's also turned into a test of will, or motivation. There's no particular reason for me to be engaging on this project other than vague self-improvement and the possibility of reading more or less fluently by the end of the year. (Not entirely true, as I have discovered--facility with Spanish is considered a moderate plus even for jobs that don't really require it.) Nor do I have the benefit of turning myself over to someone else's curriculum, or even a reputable publisher's "learn a language very quickly" series (like Routledge's excellent Intensive Dutch collection). All those grad school skills prove useful again--knowing how to get your feet under you when learning a field from scratch, judging what books or techniques will be helpful, etc.

As a small compensation, I have reached a point at which I can begin to identify my weaknesses and begin to address them. The longer-lasting and more complicated will be the use of metaphors, which function in exactly the same way in Spanish as they do in English. I'll be happily reading along and get to a part of the text--2666--that begins to make no sense at all, despite having correctly understood and translated all of the involved words; some of them are figurative. It has an odd way of highlighting the strangeness of language, or the strangeness of the concept of a metaphor.

The real problems these days come from idioms. In my previous classroom-based Spanish instruction, we almost never learned any--everyone has to learn dar a luz so that young women attempting Spanglish or unaware of false cognates do not go around saying they are embarazada, which actually happened and required immediate correction in my 9th grade class. But they are generally not otherwise taught. Nor does my textbook seem willing to give them out on anything more than a need-to-know basis: I've learned perhaps half a dozen, mostly interjections. Unfortunately, actual Spanish writing is--idiom alert--peppered with them. Unlike metaphors, which are at least translated as usual and require only an understanding of context, translating idioms word-for-word is wasted effort. Much better just to learn them by rote. But this requires a separate book.

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