chapter  3
7 Pages

Speaking Romance-esque

Notwithstanding extensive contact with African American English throughout my childhood and adolescent years and some contact with Spanish when I attended a junior high school with a significant Hispanic population, by the time I left the US at the age of 22, I was for all intents and purposes classifiable as a monolingual English speaker. The most significant and critical language learning experiences in my life coincided with a short stay of four months in Paris in Autumn 1978, during which I activated some of the French that I had learned during two semesters of study in my last year at university, and, more importantly, a very long stay of 18 years in Barcelona. I arrived in Barcelona in December 1978 with a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, mainly acquired during four semesters of university study. I say rudimentary because while I could do simple things like ask for a morning café con leche (coffee with milk), I would get tripped up when asked if I wanted the milk in my coffee caliente o natural (hot or lukewarm) or if I desired anything else, such as una pasta (a pastry). Aware of my deficiencies, I immediately applied a great deal of effort to improving my skills in Spanish, utilizing many of the self-directed language learning strategies I was later to learn about when I began to read applied linguistics books (e.g. Wenden & Rubin, 1987). For example, prior to social encounters with unknown individuals (e.g. buying food in a market, making enquiries about utilities, asking for directions), I would attempt to anticipate what would be said, ensuring that I would both understand and be able to produce key lexical items when I was actually engaged in conversation. As a result of my efforts, by the time I had been in Barcelona for six months I was reading Spanish language novels and conversing confidently and freely.