My mentors have long assured me that I would reach this point, this level where I feel like I am just about to break through, just about to crest the ridge, just about to finish the final lap of the 1650, just about to….understand Catalan.
What they never told me, is that I would pass this point.
Threshold! Alas! You cannot hold me!!
That’s right, folks, I can finally understand Catalan. The breakthrough happened late Wednesday night, when I found myself able to understand 90% of my professor’s lecture in Nationalism, Federalism, and Territorial Structures (the other 10% was a result of me zoning out). Considering that the first lecture consisted of me mainly guessing at the subject that he was addressing based on nearly-universal cognates like “federalism” (federalisme), “modern states” (estats moderns), and “Juan Carlos I” (Joan Carles I), I applaud myself at my speedy absorption of the language.
Granted, I cannot yet produce the language, but passive fluency is definitely one of the stepping-stones to the natural acquisition of language. Of course, my passive fluency is still selective, as my ability to understand Professor Miquel Caminal is no doubt partially due to the fact that I have become accustomed to his voice, speech habits, and lecturing style. And besides, the highly-specialized vocabulary (see above) of the subject matter means that I really haven’t needed to expand my knowledge of Catalan words beyond a few prepositions and auxiliary verbs. However, given the new confidence acquired Wednesday night, I have found myself able to respond to questions posed by Catalan speakers without first having to confusedly ask “¿Cómo?” and then have them switch to Castellano.
Likewise, my confidence and proficiency in Spanish has increased dramatically. With the exception of my friend from Andalucia, I am able to understand virtually any Spanish speaker. This of course creates comical situations in the classroom, where the students to whom I teach conversational American English believe I do not understand Spanish. I was unable to contain my laughter when three thirteen-year-old girls proceeded to bicker among themselves as to whether or not they should ask if I am gay.
“Pues, no tiene novia...”
“Y lleva una camisa mojada…”
“¿Quizás sea gay?”
Instead, they proceeded to ask me if I lived in a house or an apartment building.
As of right now, I have only optimism for my future acquisition of Catalan and perfection of Castellano. A most excellent opportunity has afforded itself this coming Sunday, when I plan to attend a calçotada, some form of Catalan barbeque involving the countryside, onions, and bibs. Although attending involves my waking up at some 7:00am on a Sunday (I have to catch the 8:40 Renfe out of Sans Estació, itself a 30-minute metro-ride away), I could not turn down the generosity of Ángels, the director of the English department at the high school where I volunteer. Besides, when else will I have the opportunity to attend such a distinct cultural phenomenon?