Up early, studying my…

Up early, studying my Spanish. It's a little hard to know exactly how to study for this; it's not like I'm likely to get all my vocabulary back -- and in any case, I'm allowed a dictionary. I have a decent grasp on the verb tenses -- enough for a translation exam. What got me last year were idioms; I translated too literally, and I knew that certain phrases made little sense, but I didn't know the idioms that applied. I can only hope that this brushing up I'm doing will make me less likely to need to look up every dang word (which is what I had to do last year, because I'd even forgotten everyday words like "algunos" (some)), leaving me more time to guess at idiomatic usage. I watched part of Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down last night, until I got too tired to concentrate, and this morning I've been reading one of my old Spanish short story collections, Selecciones de Ana Maria Matute. I can hum along pretty well in that, but I think it's written for a third-year audience. I really ought to have started a few days earlier and worked through a chapter of Allende or Marquez instead. Ah well.

I think part of my reluctance to study is that it just seems unfair that I've forgotten so much. I mean, I was almost fluent in Spanish, once upon a time -- enough to pass Chicago's advanced translation *and* speaking exams. That was only a decade or so ago; why doesn't my brain just retain this stuff?? Actually, it does retain it -- when I look up "algunos" and see "some" it's not as if I've learned a new word -- it's like getting a word that's been on the tip of your tongue finally out. But to do that with a whole language? Unfair! I'd like to have a few words with my brain...in Spanish, ideally.

Or Polish, or Tamil. Which are the two other languages I've managed to forget. I studied Polish for four years(!) in grammar school, because I lived in a Polish-Catholic neighborhood and everyone learned it. Do I have much use for it in my everyday life? Well, no. But it'd be nice to be able to read Stanislaw Lem in the original, and I think there's a poet named...Agniewskwa? Something like that, that I've liked a lot in translation. Not to mention that if my Polish were really fluent, it'd be a short step to Russian, and since David and Alex both speak Russian, that'd be pretty darn cool to know. But it's gone, all gone. I can still do the sign of the cross, and their version of Happy Birthday ("Stolat", one hundred years...), and even sort of a Christmas carol or two, but my pronunciation's all mangled on those and I'm not sure what I'm saying. I had a decent Polish accent, once upon a time. I miss it.

And my parents tell me that I was fluent in Tamil as a baby. I came to the U.S. at age 2.5 or so, and probably spoke a fair bit of Tamil with them for another year or two, before they got all intense about my learning English. And I appreciate the English, I do -- it may be the single thing I've learned (excellent grammatical and idiomatic English) that's gotten me as far as I've gotten. But dangit, I wish I'd hung onto the Tamil too. I still understand my folks a little, when they speak it -- but only them. Anyone else from Sri Lanka has too different an accent; I just lose the words entirely. Tragic, that's what it is.

Back to my third-grade short stories. Sigh.

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