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Mode Changes

March 20, 2013

We’ve “recently” (meaning, since like November) instituted a Spanish Lunch on Wednesdays at my office, in the thought of fostering practice in the language between interested persons.  While I’m aiming for a good college try at the DELE this year, we have two other members of the group who are travelers (one of whom just went to Guatemala a few weeks ago) and another who is an absolute beginner.  And one more who is a native speaker from Argentina, and just likes being a good resource for conversation.

The native speaker wasn’t available today for our lunch, though – those pesky meetings – and I ran into him afterwards which ended up going into a conversation on the languages I’m either studying at the moment or already speak.  I was mentioning that the beginner in the lunch is having issues with keeping up with the conversation, and he himself gave voice to the problem he’d had when he started learning English – specifically, changing “modes”.

By “mode”, I mean going into the other language deep enough that you’re not having to translate things multiple times.

The newbie in our group has the problem of the fact that he’s grasping for what we’re saying – even when we speak slowly -, having to translate it back into English, formulate his response in English and then spit it back out in Spanish.  The delay of going from Spanish to English, taking time to think, and then translating English to Spanish was enough that his own thoughts were throwing him off from interacting more with the conversation.  This was being more of a distraction than even just not having enough vocabulary to participate, but rather keeping him from actually engaging at all.

I remember (vaguely) how bad it was when I was taking Spanish back in school and I was fumbling for words, which is why we do try to slow down for him, and stop and self-translate now and again to help him keep up.  I just don’t remember quite when I switched to being able to try to formulate thoughts in Spanish (or Hebrew) as I was working through a conversation…

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