Harrington: Habla Espanol?

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(Host) Many Vermonters are learning foreign languages for use at work,
for travel, or for cultural enrichment. College English instructor,
former newspaper editor and commentator Elaine Harrington pauses from
her Spanish studies to consider the trend.

(Harrington) Last
weekend I spent four hours catching up on grammar homework for my
Spanish class. All those English cognates seem to make Spanish easy –
until you reach the advanced verb tenses.

I’ve studied Spanish
over the years – lessons here and there, informal conversation groups,
books and films. A trip to Madrid was my high point of study and
enjoyment. But this semester I’ve made a real commitment – including
four UVM classes a week, on-line homework, exams, and compositions in
which I write about my life with all the sophistication of a
nine-year-old. I’m the only nontraditional student in a class of

Becoming bilingual is a long-held goal – for access
to the varied cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. Studying Spanish
also feeds a part of me that loves words. I want to be able to think and
express myself in more than one language.

And I’m not the only
Vermonter using this relatively quiet time of year to learn a new
language. The Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier hosts "Lunch in a
Foreign Language." Just show up with your sandwich and a willingness to
speak. Monday is for Hebrew; Tuesday, Italian; Wednesday, Spanish;
Thursday, French; and Friday, German. The Fletcher Free Library in
Burlington offers immigrants classes in English – and also hosts
conversation groups in French, German, and Russian.

This winter
Mary Stone of East Montpelier listened to 30 German CDs (the Pimsler
method) before she and her husband visited their daughter overseas. "It
gave us all the numbers, the basic greetings, and the basics of travel,"
she says. "And it got us used to hearing the German language spoken."
The Stone family also uses Spanish when traveling in Latin America.

friends planning foreign trips are downloading Living Language apps
onto iPads. Italian is quite popular. Businesspeople going to China – or
just across the border to Quebec – usually prepare with some language
basics. And college students seeking work in the shops and restaurants
along Church Street in Burlington are being asked if they know French,
due to so many Canadian tourists. Vermont dairy farmers take Spanish
classes to talk with their Hispanic workers. And teachers and health
care workers use translators – or study new languages themselves – to
communicate with immigrants and refugees. Many Vermonters indeed are
expanding their linguistic options.

There’s another reason for
me to continue with the Spanish subjunctive. New research, according to
The New York Times, shows that bilingualism improves the brain’s
"executive function." Juggling two languages helps people ignore
distractions but switch attention "willfully from one thing to another."
They also retain information longer and, yes, do ward off Alzheimer’s

So the world beckons. As the Rosetta Stone language
program advertised: "He was a hard-working farm boy. She was an Italian
supermodel." Their website now says: "Think Global. Speak Local."

business deals, brain power, or just more enjoyment on a future trip.
There’s lots of motivation to study another language this spring.

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