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.

Difference of opinion not war


The petty politicking in the wake of the Norwegian massacre appalls me.

The mass killings were a tragic act of evil, the politics of the perpetrator and his victims are irrelevant.

This is like Port Arthur or Aramoana and Andrei says it all, There is nothing intelligent to say.

We should be thinking of the victims and those who mourn them, not engaging in political point scoring.

As an elderly friend once told me, politics is a difference of opinion, not a war.

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.

A little learning . . .


 . . . isn’t nearly enough when it comes to a foreign language.

My first attempts at learning Spanish were by correspondence. I had no trouble understanding the lessons but instead of doing a little each day I tended to do a fortnight’s work at a single sitting and then forgot everything I’d taken in by the next time I went back to it.

Studying at Otago University was more successful but learning the theory gives you skills in the opposite way from which you acquire them by total immersion. If you learn a language by living it you learn as children do, to understand what you hear first, then to speak and later to read and write. Learning it formally, reading and writing  usually come first then speaking and finally listening comprehension follows.

Three months total immersion at language school in Spain did more for my language skills than three years at university could have, but that was four years ago. Teaching night classes has helped me retain the basics but I’m very rusty with anything more advanced.

 That’s one of the reasons we’re back in Vejer de la Frontera where I’m spending mornings at La Janda language school.

It attracts students from all over the world and while we learn the  language we also learn about the Spanish culture and a little about the countries and cultures of our fellow students.

Es una experiencia muy especial, y día por día, poco por poco,  estoy aprendiendo más.  (It’s a special experience and day by day, little by little I’m learning more).

Job lost by Nat budget cut for 2nd time – updated


 The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was seeking an editor for their Women In Agriculture newsletter.

It could be done from home and a very generous salary was being offered – from memory it was about $20,000 which was a lot of money for a very much part-time job in 1991.

The job description could have been written with me in mind. I had the journalism training and experience, was one of the co-founders of WAg in North Otago and still actively involved with it.

I applied, was short listed, interviewed and offered the position. But the offer came with a proviso that funding continued and the Budget a few weeks later cut it.

That was bad news for me as an individual but as a taxpayer I couldn’t argue for continued funding for something which definitely wasn’t necessary and which, if truth be told, shouldn’t have been publicly funded in the first place.

Nearly two decades later another National budget has put paid to another part time job for me. Teaching Spanish night classes has fallen victim to a change in rules for Adult Community Education (ACE) with funds being redirected towards priority areas of literacy and numeracy.

Again while I’m sorry as an individual I can’t argue against this move as a taxpayer because that would mean trying to justify public funding for private indulgences because these are essentially hobby classes.

I’ve been teaching the classes for four years with a Uruguayan friend. We’ve taken it seriously, spent time preparing lessons, provided notes and done our best in the classroom. We’ve enjoyed it and so have our students but the relative contribution by taxpayers and students was brought home to us this year when we discovered that 20 classes had been advertised when we thought we were only offering 10.

The students had paid $70 for 20 lessons but would get a refund of just $5 if we taught only 10 because most of the costs their fees covered were upfront ones, in particular advertising, and the major on-going cost of our wages came from taxpayers.

The classes were fun for our students and us but when there are so many other more important calls on public funds I couldn’t argue that paying for us to have fun was a priority.

Someone in the first lesson always asked how much they could expect to learn and I brought them down to earth by explaining after two years studying Spanish at university, three months of total immersion classes in Spain and five trips to Argentina to practise I have only an intermediate grasp of the language and a rusty one at that.

Even if the students went over what they’d learned between classes, which few if any ever did, 10 or even 20  two-hour lessons once a week were never going to be able to give them any more than the very basics – especially for those who’d never learned a foreign language before and/or didn’t understand how English worked either.

That’s not to say the classes didn’t have value. Apart from enjoyment, the students learned a little about another language and different cultures, they met new people, used their brains and expanded their horizons. But even so I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say that anything they learned or gained could justify taxpayer funding.

There are many important priorities for education which taxes should fund, hobby classes aren’t one of them .

Stargazer sees this differently at The Hand Mirror.

UPDATE: Labour has launched a petition against the changes to ACE funding.

Bill English responded:

“Keeping ACE funding at previous levels would have meant not funding some of the Government’s other priorities such as special education, literacy and numeracy or skills training for the young unemployed.

“Labour, presumably, would just put the extra spending ‘on the credit card’ like everything else it is promising. Labour left behind about $500 million of unfunded tertiary education commitments, which is one of the reasons we’ve had to reassess some existing funding.

“I challenge Maryan Street to show how she would fund ACE at current levels, meet other education priorities, and stay within Budget,” Mr English says.


I’d struggle to make a case for public funding of hobby classes at the best of times let alone now when the country is facing years of deficits.

There is no case now when we’re facing years of deficits and literacy, numeracy and special education are much higher priorities.

Tuesday’s answers


Monday’s questions were:

1. Name a band and a song it sings which are both palindromes.

2. Who wrote Breakfast at Six?

3. Who said, There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply callisthenics with words.?

4. Which language is spoken as a first language in the most countries?

5. It’s Queen’s Birthday today – but when is Queen Elizabeth II’s real birthday?

For the first time all questions were answered correctly.

An electronic bunch of flowers goes to Paul Tremewan who got all 5.

Kismet got 2, 3, 4 and half of 5.

I thought Ed Snack was right with 4 but if Wikipedia is to be believed, we were both wrong.

PDM gets a point for trying.

Tuesday’s answers follow the break:

Read the rest of this entry »

Se puede leer mi blog en español


Se puede leer mi blog en español –  you can read my blog in Spanish.

I made this discovery when I noticed six visitors had been referred from translate.google.com.mx/translate?hl=… and followed the link to find not just the post but the sub heading (una perspectiva rural con un tinte azul), coments and even the name of one of the commenters translated – Farmer Baby Boomer had become agricultor bebé Boomer.  

My Spanish is a bit rusty but it seems to be a thorough translation with good grammar and not just a word by word attempt which doesn’t make sense which can be a problem with electronic translations.

It’s not the first time something I’ve written has been translated into Spanish on the internet. While work avoiding one day I came across an extract from a piece I’d written for North and South in 1991 on the death of a baby on a Spanish website for bereaved parents.

People more accustomed to the possibilities of technolgy than I am may take this for granted, but I’m amazed by the way something written in one language can be so reaidily availabe to readers in another.

Viva La France


It’s Bastille Day.

My school French wasn’t particularly good to start with and the foreign language files in my memory are now dominated by Spanish, so I’ll leave it at: Viva La France!

[Update: Adam Smith’s  acknowledges his French ancestry, gives a brief explanation of Bastille Day and links to the singing of La Marseillaise.]

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