Spanish Fever 1 – No Shortcuts


The Year of The Spanish Fever

There are no magic chants or mobile apps to make learning a language easy.

The term ‘language immersion’ suggests that you can learn through osmosis and master a language in your sleep. The reality is that your brain can absorb only so much before it needs to process in background mode. At some point it shuts down and demands tequila (sake you’re studying Japanese), a long walk or a nap. Read more…


Spanish Fever 2, Trail by Fire


The Year of The Spanish Fever

Read more…


Spanish Fever 4, Do-it screen


The Year of The Spanish Fever. Post 4

The old American’s years of hiking in the Rockies were behind him. Hips, mostly.

“Now what?”

He started searching for something that would be rigorous in a different way. The possibility of spending a good length of time alone in a foreign city, without knowing a soul or speaking the language, seemed intriguing.

He had never imagined doing anything like that. He wasn’t a particularly cosmopolitan kind of guy. He had southern Ohio table manners.

It dawned on him that enrolling in an intensive-language program would place him in the company of interesting people for a good part of each day. With that safety net in place he was sure he could handle the rest of the time on his own.

If he hated syntax and vocabulary, he figured he could fake it. Besides he could skip classes whenever he wanted. He didn’t owe the language a damned thing.

| LOST IN TRANSLATION | To “consult your pillow” means to sleep on an idea.fingerprint4-only-final-40px


Spanish Fever, 5, Gender Identity

The Year of The Spanish Fever. Post 5

Almost every Spanish noun has a gender. Adjectives and articles are expected to agree.

Things you might assume are masculine or feminine can fool you. Ironically the Spanish word for sausage is feminine but the word for buns is masculine. The language undergoes a sex change every twelve hours — day is a masculine word but night is feminine.

Some words seem wrong for their gender. “Mujer” (mu-hair) doesn’t sound especially feminine but it means woman. “Mujer” is also used as slang, as a substitute to refer to a wife. The more precise word for wife “esposa” also means handcuffs so it’s avoided in many circles.

The simple old American found that the Spanish language’s obsession with gender takes some getting used to. He was slow to catch on.

| LOST IN TRANSLATION | A man cannot be “embarazado.” It means pregnant.fingerprint4-only-final-40px


Spanish Fever, 6, Comfort Zone


The Year of The Spanish Fever. Post 6

Waiting until nine at night to have dinner was as about as outward-bound as the old man wanted his overseas adventure with the Spanish language to be.

He planned to step out of his old comfort zone and immediately step into a new one.

The idea was to unpack and stay somewhere long enough to watch a neighborhood change with the season, to visit the same barber shop twice and to get around town without unfolding a map.

He decided Barcelona was as good a place as any. Two months sounded about right.

He didn’t book his trip until he found an apartment where he wouldn’t mind having the flu. A washer and dryer would be good.

He rented a small studio with a terrace overlooking the hills to the north and down the slope to the Mediterranean. The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia was two blocks to the front. He watched that monstrosity of a masterpiece being built over breakfast.

The apartment cost much less than a hotel and not much more than student housing. He skipped tourist places he’d visited with his wife on an earlier trip. Barcelona’s streets, architecture and public events would fit his schedule and his budget.

| LOST IN TRANSLATION | Spanish speakers don’t say it is four in the afternoon. They say they are four in the afternoon.


Spanish Fever, 7, Easiest Language


Conversation-600pxThe Year of The Spanish Fever

True to character, the old man chose to study the easiest language he could find.

Spanish is a kissing cousin to English. Both have roots in Latin. Words called ‘cognates’ have the same meaning in both languages. He was confident his lips, tongue and throat would be able to do the job. He wouldn’t have to pucker like those poor French people do.

Although the school he chose in Barcelona offered classes for beginners, he signed up for a crash course at a local community college, studying alongside people who were teaching in Hispanic neighborhoods.

They started with hellos, numbers up to one hundred, the hours of the day. They explored words for family, weather, food and vacations. Just learning to repeat a phone number was harder than he expected.

Their Spanish 101 book was full of ‘OJO!’ boxes that warned them to ignore what was taught on the page before. It wasn’t the book’s fault. This isn’t mathematics.

| LOST IN TRANSLATION | Spanish speakers avoid placing blame on individuals. ‘The bumper of your car backed into the bumper of my car.’ they might say. They have a special ‘no-fault’ pronoun just for this purpose.


Spanish Fever, 8, Barcelona


The Year of The Spanish Fever. Post 8

Spain gave the old student an enthusiastic welcome.

He was met by natives who enjoy visitors pursuing its languages. Barcelonans use Catalan among themselves but Spanish (Castilian) also enjoys official status.

By day, there are those beaches, boulevards and plazas with startling public art — they’re made for walking. Barcelona isn’t a dense and vertical place like Manhattan. It’s a San Francisco.

By night, the place is electric — or so the old man was told. The kids in his class regularly skipped first period after they had been out at the ‘discotecas.’

The Metro is cheap and reliable. The trains are full of school kids, office workers and grandparents with toddlers. Here are the faces of Europe, Africa and the Middle East. You’ll see beggars and pickpockets.

Topless sunbathers disappear from the beaches just as the time changes in late October. As soon as temperatures dip into the upper 40s, the city starts to parade its winter outfits.

The American’s favorite souvenir from Spain is a national treasure recommended by Professor Noemí Bayona Rodríguez: Radio y Televisión Española is a mix of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Country Classics, British Rock, Jazz, African and Latin American music — mostly by artists he would never have known. The diction is perfect for students of Spanish. You can tune in at

| LOST IN TRANSLATION | Don’t be surprised if a Spanish speaker invites you to ‘kiss the bottle.’fingerprint4-only-final-40px


Spanish Fever, 9, Urban Campus


The Year of The Spanish Fever. Post 9

The student body is mostly young but there are people of all ages. He was warmly welcomed. The professors appreciated his interest in Spain’s history, culture and economy; they enjoyed directing lectures to older students. Read more…


Spanish Fever, 10, Crossword Puzzle


The Year of The Spanish Fever. Post 10

He wanted to find out what it is like to learn a language from scratch. It would be a year-long experiment. He would average at least 20 hours a week and he would keep notes. Read more…