(Above: Picasso, beloved son of Spain)
I wrote my very first Spanish language exam yesterday. I have to say that it was pretty tough, despite the amount of effort and hard work I put into my studies. The biggest problem I found, is the limited size of my vocabulary at the moment. Unfortunately living in Africa, especially southern Africa, one really doesn’t encounter many Spanish speakers, and this of course affects your absorption rate of the new vocabulary because you are obviously not being exposed to the language in use in every day scenarios. As does access to reading material; newspapers, books etc. (No I don’t have a Kindle!). Fortunately I have found an excellent language tutor, a Peruvian (isn’t that a most excellent word? “take me to your leader, Earthling, I am a Peruvian!”), Waldir Marchán Prado. But still, after only six months, my vocab is, as I said, understandably limited, which when trying to answers questions relating to grammar and comprehension is a substantial handicap. I am sure I have passed though because I did know my grammar rules really well, and my course mark is 95% which will help. However I won’t do as well as I would have liked to. I had planned to take Spanish 2 in my second semester but I have decided to take 6 months instead to work on my Spanish with my tutor. I will then take it in the 2014 first semester, and hopefully I will shred the exam! Certainly my vocabulary will have increased substantially by than.
Apart from an amazing sense of accomplishment, among the less obvious benefits of learning a foreign language is the subtle yet profound change in perspective you gain from seeing the world through totally new eyes.I kid you not! Every language expresses ideas differently, and one of the benefits of learning a foreign language is gaining the ability to compare the perspectives of your native tongue and the foreign language to gain new insights and see the world from a different point of view (plus in learning about another language you relearn your own). This can spark creativity and give you an exciting new window through which to view the world, this is an extremely valuable benefit for an artist especially! Brain fitness is also an added benefit: recent medical studies have highlighted the positive effects that learning a foreign language has on the health of the human brain. Studies by York University of Alzheimer’s patients demonstrated that those who were bilingual had a significant delay in the onset of the disease compared to their monolingual counterparts. Other studies concerning the health of monolingual and bilingual patients’ brains showed that the effects of dementia were less advanced in bilingual patients even though their brains showed more brain damage as a result of the disease. Bilingual children actually have more brainpower than kids who grow up speaking only one language.
(Below: Ana Mendieta, beloved daughter of Cuba)
So why Spanish? Well, firstly I have always wanted to learn the language because of my ancestory. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was a Spaniard. He was a sailor on board a Spanish warship which docked here in Durban during the Second World War. My mother was a War baby, born in 1945, a result of my grandmother’s liaison with the Spaniard. I get my Latino appearance from him, so it started there. Secondly, I wish to establish myself as an artist on the international stage and Spanish is a great asset to have in this regard. With 329 million native speakers, Spanish ranks as the world’s No. 2 language in terms of how many people speak it as their first language. It is slightly ahead of English (328 million) and far behind Chinese (1.2 billion). It is the third most used language on the Internet. Spanish has at least 3 million native speakers in each of 44 countries, which makes it the fourth mostly geographically widely spoken language behind English (112 countries), French (60) and Arabic (57). Hectic, huh?!!!
Although Spanish originated on the Iberian Peninsula as a descendant of Latin, today it is has far more speakers in Latin America, having been brought to the New World by Spanish colonialization. Although there are minor differences in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation between the Spanish of Spain and the Spanish of Latin America, the differences are not so great as to prevent easy communication. This is another reason why I wanted to learn Spanish, because it opens up options for me to establish myself both in Europe and the Americas, including large parts of the United States. Mexico contains the largest population of Spanish speakers with 114 million followed by the United States with 50 million. By 2050 it is estimated that the US will become the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world! There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are speakers of Chinese, French, Italian, Hawaiian, and the Native American languages combined!
Ironically (considering today’s political and ideological climate) after Latin, the language that has had the biggest influence on Spanish is Arabic. This is of course due to the fact that in the 7th century, Muslim armies conquered most of Spain, calling it Al-Andulus. They would not be completely expelled for another 700 years (the year Columbus discovered the new world). Now Muslims are returning, and polls suggest they are not returning to be Spaniards. A survey found that 7 out of 10 Muslims in Spain think of themselves as Muslim rather than Spaniards. Plataforma x Catalunya,” or Platform for Catalonia, was the first political party to take the Muslim surge seriously. But in politically correct Spain, which celebrated the 1,300-year anniversary of the Muslim invasion as a good thing, Platform for Catalonia is denounced as racist and xenophobic.
Platform leader Joseph Anglada said his party is not against immigrants. They’re against uncontrolled immigration and what they say are immigrants who do not want to be a part of Spain. “Muslim immigrants are not here to adapt,” Anglada said. “They’re here to conquer. First the husband comes as the head of the family,” he explained. “Then the wife and children, and later he comes with his parents, in-laws, and grandparents, and it has turned into an invasion.” There are reportedly more than 100 radical Wahhabi mosques in Spain. And two radical Muslim TV channels from the Middle East are now broadcasting into Spain. And just as Muslim immigration is surging, the native Spanish are slowly disappearing. Their birth rate is below the replacement number. Also, large numbers of college age Spaniards are fleeing the country to escape a 50 percent unemployment rate for young people. Meanwhile, the Muslim birthrate is at least twice the native birthrate, and the number of Muslims has increased tenfold in the last 20 years. A secret report by Spanish intelligence leaked to the media, found that radical groups from the Middle East are pouring large sums of money into Spain to control the nation’s Muslims. “The greatest threat for Spain, Catalonia, and Europe is Muslim immigration,” Anglada told CBN News. “We know they are coming here to conquer what, according to Muslims, used to belong to them,” he said. “We have a moral duty so that in the future they can say that at least there was someone, one party, that was not willing to surrender the West to Islamization.” Funny how the more things change the more they stay the same. Wars fought 1300 years ago are still being fought by their ancestors: race against race, religion against religion, ideaology against ideology. What a creation we humans are…
Aaaand back to the language! Spanish is one of the world’s most phonetic languages. If you know how a word is spelled, you can almost always know how it is pronounced (haha, apart from the “ll”, and the “v” and the “j” in those words, those are tricky). But the thing that I found most interesting about Spanish was that Spanish words have gender! What does it mean to have gender in language? It means some words are called masculine and others feminine. Here is an example: the expression for “Good morning” is Buenos días while the expressions for “Good afternoon” and “Good evening” are Buenas tardes and Buenas noches, respectively. This difference is a result of gender, the idea of words being masculine or feminine: Tardes (afternoons) and Noches (nights) are feminine words while Días (days) is a masculine word. So you will notice that the sex of the word also affects the word preceding it; Buenos/Buenas takes on its sex. So next time you see the word latino or latina you will now know that the word is gender-specific; the former being masculine and the latter feminine. Interesting, huh? It kind of lends a real weight and vitality to the language, an immediacy. I know some feminists will hate the fact that words have a gender and call it sexist but I really like the idea that words have a sex, it adds to “their” character and makes them live. The other cool thing is that Spanish is one of the so-called Romance languages The Romance languages developed from Latin in the sixth to ninth centuries; the five most widely spoken Romance languages, by number of native speakers, being Spanish (385 million), Portuguese (210 million), French (75 million), Italian (60 million), and Romanian (23 million). Ha, French is always seen as the language of romance! Spanish is by far, the more poetic and lyrical language!
In fact,there have been 11 Literature Nobel Prizes in Spanish: José Echegaray (Spain, 1904); Jacinto Benavente (Spain, 1922); Gabriela Mistral (Chile, 1945); Juan Ramón Jiménez (Spain, 1956); Miguel Ángel Asturias (Guatemala, 1967); Pablo Neruda (Chile, 1971); Vicente Aleixandre (Spain, 1977); Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia, 1982); Camilo José Cela (Spain, 1989); Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1990) and Mario Vargas Llosa (Spain -born in Perú-, 2010). It is no wonder that some of my favourite authors and poets are Spanish and I cannot wait to be able to read their works as they were originally written and not in the translated form. Here are just a few of them that I highly recommend:
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Told in a series of vignettes (episodes), stunning in their eloquence, this is a memoir of a young girl’s growing up in the Latino section of Chicago.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Sooooo Saaaaaaad, the Bronte sisters be damned! In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs–yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he does so again. There is an awesome movie adaption of the book as well, this is how love should be; eternal and without restraint!
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a best-selling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit. The number one bestseller in Mexico and America for almost two years, and subsequently a bestseller around the world, Like Water For Chocolate is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit – and recipes. A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds. Did I not say that it is Spanish that is the true language of love?!!!!
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future. The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate. Also a very good movie, BUT read the book first!!
The Shadow of the Wind (El cementerio de los libros olvidados #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love. Quite possibly my favourite author at the moment! The Barcelona he describes is so vital and magical! I cannot wait to visit it!
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho’s enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom points Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transformation power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts. Inspirational and uplifting stuff!
One of the most famous poets of all time, Pablo Neruda was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, but adopted legally in 1946 his pen name of Pablo Neruda. From the 1940s on, his works reflected the political struggle of the left and the socio-historical developments in South America. However. he is also very famous for his love poems and they are sumptious feasts of beautifully crafted words! Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and Song of Despair (1924) have sold over a million copies since it first appeared.
I will conclude my little ode to the Spanish language with Neruda’s beautiful poem:
Song of despair
The memory of you emerges from the night around me.
The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.
Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!
Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.
Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.
In you the wars and the flights accumulated.
From you the wings of the song birds rose.
You swallowed everything, like distance.
Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!
It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.
The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.
Pilot’s dread, fury of blind driver,
turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!
In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.
Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!
You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,
sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!
I made the wall of shadow draw back,
beyond desire and act, I walked on.
Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,
I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.
Like a jar you housed infinite tenderness.
and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.
There was the black solitude of the islands,
and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.
There was thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.
There were grief and ruins, and you were the miracle.
Ah woman, I do not know how you could contain me
in the earth of your soul, in the cross of your arms!
How terrible and brief my desire was to you!
How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid.
Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs,
still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds.
Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,
oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.
Oh the mad coupling of hope and force
in which we merged and despaired.
And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.
And the word scarcely begun on the lips.
This was my destiny and in it was my voyage of my longing,
and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!
Oh pit of debris, everything fell into you,
what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you not drowned!
From billow to billow you still called and sang.
Standing like a sailor in the prow of a vessel.
You still flowered in songs, you still brike the currents.
Oh pit of debris, open and bitter well.
Pale blind diver, luckless slinger,
lost discoverer, in you everything sank!
It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour
which the night fastens to all the timetables.
The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore.
Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate.
Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
Only tremulous shadow twists in my hands.
Oh farther than everything. Oh farther than everything.
It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one!
(Below: Diego Rivera, beloved son of Mexico)