Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I Would Like To Learn Spanish (in 150 minutes)

There is an awful lot of stuff that goes by the name of journalism but is in fact disguised advertising. Much of this masking can be elaborately and exquisitely worded and so give the reader little inkling as to the true purpose - selling; the subject of this selling being holiday travel. I am immensely grateful to the forum on PuertoPollensa.com for having brought to my attention an article on an obscure blog that conforms to this elaborate prose paradigm but appears to be a puff for the Cappuccino café in Puerto Pollensa. It might not be puff, but even if it is, and the reader doesn't consider it thus, then it has done its job. However, reactions to the article indicate that, notwithstanding a glowing description and therefore promotion for the resort, there might be something more to it. Something which makes you wonder as to its principal purpose.

If travel offers some fertile territory for the advert-dressed-up-as-lamb, product-placement journalistic tour de force or tour de wherever it happens to be this week (the tour courtesy of this, that or the other tour operator), it is not alone in inviting a PR agency to incentivise a journo to indulge in some veiled promotion. So prevalent is the practice that I have to conclude that there are now courses one can go on or purchase via the internet in order to rapidly become an expert on how to write the it-really-honestly-isn't-an-advertorial-but-a-legitimate-piece-of journalism. One can learn all one needs in no more than two and a half hours. Just as one can learn Spanish in two and a half hours. What do you mean, you thought that you needed longer? Oh no you don't, because an article in "The Guardian" tells you that you don't.

This article is for one of those CD, listen-and-repeat exercises that will give you sufficient vocabulary to undertake rudimentary Spanish conversation after 150 minutes. So, just think, if you live in Britain, speak nary a word of Spanish, but get on an easyJet this summer, you will, by the time you touch down in Palma, be able to discuss the Spanish national debt crisis with the bloke at passport control. Only in a rudimentary fashion admittedly, but the bloke at the desk will be sufficiently impressed to overlook the fact that your passport matches with a name on a blacklist database.

I don't doubt that one can pick up some vocab and some bits and pieces, but speak Spanish in two and a half hours!? Pull the other one, it's got "campanas" on. If it was really quite this easy, then the Balearic Government, now having approved its new language bill, one by which the young of the islands will be taught English from age three, should just scrap the bill, as the kids wouldn't need to go right through the school system until they leave secondary education in order to acquire English skills. They could give up when they are about five and then move onto another language, and so be proficient in about eight foreign languages by age 16. Just plug the Balearics kids into a CD player and within no time they'll be analysing the Hegelian dialectic in word-perfect English.

"The Guardian" article, and no, I'm not identifying the "larn-yersel-Spanish" course it refers to, is curious in more ways than it just being some puffery for the course. There is some of the usage, such as "quisiera". Strictly speaking, it is correct, as it translates as I would like, but this is not everyday use; the simple present "quiero" is. It is as well that the course, to quote the article, does not do "overt grammar". Try explaining to an English speaker that "quisiera" is in fact the imperfect preterite subjunctive, and he would either look at you as though you were mad or smack you in the mouth for trying to be a clever bastard. English speakers, as a general rule, wouldn't know a subjunctive of any type, imperfect preterite or otherwise, if it were, well, to smack them in the mouths. Oh, and "if it were to smack etc." is a subjunctive (a future one), just in case you were wondering.

Still, there is something to be said for the CD language-learning way. And so, in the spirit of the new language law, the Balearic Government should insist on all passengers travelling to Mallorca being made to listen to a "larn-yersel-Catalan" course. Oh hang on, no, that's wrong, they don't want people to learn Catalan. Or do they?


Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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