In 2008, we went up north of the Philippines to visit my grandmother, whom I fondly call Grandma. One night, I decided to spend some loving time with her and lay down in bed beside her. Before we went to sleep, she invited me to pray. I grew up in a devout Catholic family, so I thought it would just be a normal prayer or maybe the rosary. I agreed, sat back up and waited for her to lead.
Listen to me, I’ll teach you. she said. And then she started praying:
Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos, sanctificado sea tu nombre…
I thought she started speaking in tongues! Then she asked me to repeat each line until we finished the Our Father and the Hail Mary. I was trying to guess what each line meant and she said I had good intuition because my guesses were almost always correct. Well, I guess it’s just because I knew the prayers already. And that is how I started my fascination – I was going to learn Spanish through the Bible, so to speak…
My grandmother grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. That is why even if she only has a very small percentage of Spanish blood, she can speak it fluently. The following day, she started asking me, ¿Cómo estás?, and all I can answer was ¡Bien, bien! That was the only Spanish word I knew. I wanted to speak more with Grandma so she gave me a Spanish prayer book to take back home and read. It’s old and it feels like it has so much history in it. But it was the beginning. I could learn Spanish through the Bible, so to speak.
I haven’t finished reading it until now, but when she came to visit us a few months after, we started learning phrase by phrase.
We started with the body parts and then the basic expressions. I had a several pages of notes but I realized I can’t
memorize them all! So then I started looking for references online. I found electronic books and audio references. I also found local schools but since I was attending university at that time, I bought a dictionary instead. I realized that I can learn in two ways: by memorizing or reading phrase books or by learning grammar. Since I realized I can’t memorize huge volumes of phrases, I decided to learn by studying Spanish grammar. That way, I will be able to construct my own sentences instead of relying on phrase books.
It was harder than I thought at first, since it was my first time to hear noun genders and conjugations. But I got my way around with the audio lessons by Michel Thomas and a dictionary. I practiced on weekends or when I had a free night. In my last year of college, I was also able to take Spanish language classes, which greatly helped in my grammar learning and practice.
Five years later, we visited Grandma again and I was able to carry simple conversations with her already. I would tell her:
¿Cómo estás mi hermosa abuela? (How is my beautiful grandmother?)
and she would reply with a chuckle:
¿Muy bien, y tú? (Very well, and you?)
¡Muy bien también! Pero tengo hambre ahora. (Very well also! But I am hungry now.)
Bueno, vamos a comer algo. (Well, let us eat something.)
I still have a long way to go with learning Spanish. I realized that speaking Spanish is a little different than learning it in school or from the books. This is where the phrase books would come in handy. It’s like learning formal English grammar in school, but I still need to learn the commonly used expressions, like idiomatic expressions. I still need more practice and I’m just glad I have my Grandma to practice it with!
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