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10:46am on Monday, 4th September, 2006:
[Warning to Americans: in what follows, the word "rubber" means "eraser" in non-America, so don't double up with laughter please]
We had Spanish lessons in school. The teacher assured us that it was a much easier language than French because you could tell what gender the nouns were from their ending. Here's how we were taught the difference:
Teacher: So, let's start with something easy. "La goma es roja" means "the rubber is red". Goma is feminine, because it ends in a. Repeat after me: la goma es roja.
Class: La goma es roja.
Teacher: Good, good. Now, let's try masculine. The root for "white" is "blanc", like in French, so if we want to say "the paper is white", that would be "el papel es ..." — what?
Teacher: What?! Blanco! Blanco! El papel es blanco! It's a for feminine, o for masculine. Repeat after me: el papel es blanco.
Class: El papel es blanco.
Teacher: Good, good. Now: "the hand is big", "la mano es grande"...
Not the best of starts...
Eventually, we picked it up, though, and a decade later I actually went to Spain and was able to use it. Well, I was able to use it in Madrid, because we were taught Castillian pronunciation. In this, the letters c (before e and i) and z (always) are pronounced th so the word cereza, meaning "cherry" we'd say as theretha. Unfortunately, outside of Madrid (and this includes in much of Central and South America), the word is pronounced seresa. In other words, I'd been taught to speak Spanish with a lisp.
Now this isn't actually all that hard to overcome. It's quite easy to switch all ths to ss in speech (much to the relief of my friend Greg when he visited Peru, given that the Spanish for "beer" is cerveza). However, speaking and listening are two different things. If you switch all ss to ths on listening, you usually get nonsense: most of those ss are supposed to be ss. Thus, despite having an O-level in Spanish I was completely unable to comprehend even basic words like cien ("one hundred") except in Madrid.
Oh well, it was only two years of classes wasted. Besides, I did come out knowing the difference between seseo and ceceo, so if I'm ever asked that on a TV quiz show, I'm set.
Referenced by French.
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