I have a new bedside table book--the classic 501 Spanish Verbs. I currently reside in a valley on the roller coaster that is the language learning process. What I’ve realized in the last week is that I have focused on content in my reading and speaking, with little thought to verb tense. There are roller coaster high point days, on which I feel as though the words come rushing out of my mouth in effortless paragraphs. And then there are the low points, on which I stumble on simple requests, and question the correctness of the paragraphs I spouted the day before.
So my current trough prompted me to ask my Spanish teacher, Jorge, what I should do about my verb problem. “Do I just need to memorize them?” I asked? “Pretty much,” he responded, advising me to do conjugations in my head while cooking dinner, taking a shower, brushing my teeth. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun.
I have a good vocabulary, and know the meanings of many verbs. But conjugate them in past, present, future, subjunctive? Don’t hold your breath. I have been barreling through conversations using any verb tense that comes to mind, and now I’m beginning to get some sense of what I must sound like. It’s not pretty. I don’t bother to discriminate between the two main past tenses. I figure that as long as I am conveying that I am not talking about chowing down now, or in the future, I’m good.
I have heard a lot of Spanish spoken in the last eight years, and you can get pretty far this way. It’s kind of like playing by ear, only it’s speaking by ear. This is how children learn their mother tongue, after all. The only difference between them and me is that they have supremely absorbent little sponges for brains, whereas mine has begun to resemble a dried up old walnut that is also likely premenopausal. I can scarcely remember why I left one room to go to another, much less which verb to use.
Of the 501 verbs included in this new and improved edition—which also comes with a DVD and a CD—53 are labeled as the “essential 53 verbs.” For each verb, there are 7 simple and 7 compound tenses. I figure I can whittle that down to ten or maybe even 7 total. And by the end of my time here, I can probably memorize those. To my surprise, Alec said he’d like to join me. Pretty romantic, no? Even more than me, Alec has learned Spanish by ear. Only his ear is better than mine.
The question of the night is—should I bring the enormous verb tome to Sicily? Probably not.
P.S. I've decided to eliminate the Human Highlighter Suit Tally. The shirt's kind of stained, and Milo doesn't wear it as much now that it's mucky. He did get a Victor Valdez goalie jersey for Christmas, but let's see how it goes before we start another tally.