Since December, I have been studying as much Spanish as I can stomach. I do it hoping to avoid a few of the many inevitable miscommunications with my future colleagues and host family. I anticipate that any amount of linguistic gain will pay serious dividends. Which is why, no matter how tired I am, I squeeze in lesson after lesson while waiting to hear about the next-steps from Peace Corps staffers. Some days I only get in 30 minutes, but typically I go for over 2 hours. I hardly ever take a day off! As a result, I have been blowing through Rosetta Stone’s program like it’s a really good TV series on Netflix. Heck, I even supplement my education with films and music in Spanish.
Lately – get ready for an embarrassing confession – I have even started compulsively peppering conversations with Spanish…like everyone speaks Spanish?? I cannot seem to stop myself (I am so sorry O!). But I do this because it is an effective way for me to remember those vocab words and grammatical structures. I am serious about mastering this language. After all, Spanish is about to become one of my most important tools.
Please review that passage and solve this riddle: what does every sentence have in common – other than their subject matter (and that they are all written in English)?
Every sentence is deeply focused on TIME: when did/is/will it happen; is it ongoing or is it a one-time thing; is it definite or only a possibility? It is impossible to avoid this time-centric outlook; verb tenses are a requirement for every English and Spanish sentence. As it turns out, both languages have between 13 and 18 different ways of expressing verbs, based almost solely on time!
For the language learners out there, I have two words for you: verb conjugations. Did you just shutter? Me too. That is because committing them to memory is terrifically tedious. In Thai, expressing time in sentences is optional – an add-on, if you will. I think that this speaks volumes about Thai culture.
For me, living in the present requires such effort right now. It is apropos that at this uncharacteristically time-focused moment in my life, I memorize multitudes of ways to expressing it in Spanish. That while I focus on future and conditional tenses – when will I depart…? If I go…? Should my site placement be…? – I am learning to express these very sentiments in my new language.
This post is dedicated to those who have struggled to memorize verb tenses in a foreign language. And also for those who have braved learning one of those awesomely different conjugation-free languages…because that’s just awesome!
Fun fact: My favorite verb tense, for sheer ridiculousness, is the Future Perfect. It indicates an action that either is completed sometime prior to a future time or an ongoing action that continues through a future time. I apologize for making your brain hurt. Let’s make that easier for you, since you probably use that grammar with absurd regularity: “By late September, I will have been in Mexico for one month.” Not so bad that way, right?