Mi español está muy oxidado


New Zealanders don’t have a good reputation for speaking  languages other than English.

In our defence, if you don’t speak English as a first language it is a logical one to pick up as a second, but if you already speak English it’s difficult to know which of the many others to choose for a second.

That said, learning another language not only enables  you to communicate with native speakers, it helps you understand their culture and it’s also good intellectual exercise.

I had a year of Latin and three of French at school – without distinction –  but was prompted to learn Spanish after hosting an AFS student from Argentina.

A couple of years at university and three months at language school in Spain was enough to make me confident with the basics and, with the help of a Uruguayan friend, I taught night classes for a few years.

But I’ve had little opportunity to speak Spanish recently and language like any other skill requires practice. Without it, I’ve gone backwards and the phrase I employ most often is lo siento, mi español está muy oxidado – I’m sorry my Spanish is very rusty.

I have good intentions of listening to Spanish radio and music but  International Languages Week has reminded me that I haven’t acted on the intent.

I could say a lo mejor manaña,  maybe tomorrow, except someone who lived in Spain told me that manaña in that context doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means not today.

Music, In A Foreign Lanugage


In the dim, dark recesses of my memory lurks a vague trace of a poem about foreign language which would be appropriate for International Languages Week.

Try as I might I can’t dig it out so went searching on the internet and found Music, In A Foreign Language by Andrew Crumey at famouspoetsandpoems.com

 – Music, In A Foreign Language –

In a cafe, once more I heard
Your voice – those sparse and frugal notes.
Do they not say that you spoke your native Greek
With an English accent?

Briefest of visions: eyes meet across the cafe;
A man of about my age – eyelids heavy,
Perhaps from recent pleasures.
I begin the most innocent of conversations.

Again I see that image;
Ancient delight of flesh
Against guiltless flesh.
Sweeter still, in its remembering.

Most innocent of conversations: once more, I am mistaken.
He leaves; the moment lost – and to forego
The squalor of this place, I read again your lines; those sparse and frugal notes.
In a taverna, you found beauty, long ago.

And when you draw, with your slim, swift pen
The image of that memory – time’s patient hostage;
Then how can I forget him, that boy whom you could not forget,
Or that music, in a foreign language?

– Andrew Crumey –

Pictures speak every language


Buenas tardes, buona sera, and bonsoir.

That’s another token gesture towards International Languages Week and this a follow up from yesterday’s post about using pictures rather than words to get the message across to people who can’t speak your language.

When I put my card in the cashpoint machine today I was momentarily confused by what I saw on the screen.

Instead of the message I was used to, there were little dialogue boxes down the right hand side in English and an Asian script. The English said only use this if you want another language.

If you need another language it’s possible you can’t read English so how will you understand that instruction?

When we were in Europe, every cashpoint machine we used had flags denoting different language options. If you don’t understand what español, ingles,  italiano, alemán or francés meant, the flag beside the word told you it was Spanish, English, Italian, German or French so you didn’t have to understand the host country’s language to work out what to do.

How hard would it be to do that here?

A picture doesn’t just paint 1000 words, it does so in every language.

Apropos of International Languages Week:

 goNZoFreakpower shows us how Flight of the Conchords cope with French.

Jim Mora  interviewed Professor Cynthia White from Massey University’s School of Languages.



Buenos día, bon jour, boun giorno and bula.

Since it’s international languages week when we’re being encouraged to widen our linguistic horizons by branching out from our mother tongue, we might spare a thought for people who come here without being able to understand English.

A couple of women ahead of me in the queue at the airport bank were trying to pay departure tax.

The woman serving them asked for their passports. they looked blank.

She repeated what she’d just said, a little more slowly and a little more loudly.

They looked at each other then back at the woman serving them.

She asked for their passports again even more slowly.

It was obvious the women didn’t have a clue what she was saying.

I showed them my passport and the light went on in their eyes.

We can’t expect people working  at airports to speak every language they might encounter from their customers. But how difficult would it be to have a sign showing in pictures what was required when paying the tax?

Tuesday’s answers


Monday’s questions were:

1. Which are New Zealand’s second and third highest mountains?

2. Who wrote The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

3. Who said: Thinking Men Cannot Be Ruled”?

4. What is a grampus?

5. Since it’s International Languages Week:  which languages do the following greetings come from:

a) haai

b) bula vinaka

c) namaste

d) fakalofa

e) talofa

Paul Tremewan who must be reigning champion, gets the electronic bouquet – is it too early for a sprig of daphne? – for getting 4 4/5 correct; Gravedodger gets 2 2/5 for honesty, Paul L can have a bonus for amusing me ( when work avoiding as I am because of an essay due tomorrow I’m very easily amused) and Paul Corrigan gets a bonus for additional information.

Anyone who finds a link between the name Paul and ability to answer quiz questions can have a bonus too.

Tuesday’s answers follow the break:

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday’s quiz


1. Which are New Zealand’s second and third highest mountains?

2. Who wrote The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

3. Who said: Thinking Men Cannot Be Ruled”?

4. What is a grampus?

5. Since it’s International Languages Week:  which languages do the following greetings come from:

a) haai

b) bula vinaka

c) namaste

d) fakalofa

e) talofa

First words you learn in a foreign language



song chart memes

No hablo español and hola, ¿cómo está? were among the first phrases I learned in Spanish.

I still can’t say let’s get drunk (though do know that resacar is hangover.  It also means undertow and some suffering the former might feel they’ve been caught in the latter).

But I’ve managed to get to an intermediate level with only a couple of naughty words in my Spanish vocabulary. One of those is pajero, pronounced pah hey roe. Mitsubishi didn’t do their homework well when they came up with this name for one of their vehicles, though some think it’s a fitting description of the people who drive them.

Graph from GraphJam.

Inspired by this post at Cactus Kate on International Languages Week.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: