Speaking Spanish

When are you fluent enough to be able to say that you are a speaker of a language? In my case, I can confidently say that I am an English speaker as it is the language that I generally write and read in. I can also claim to be a Malay speaker with Malay being my native language. But even between those two, my fluency in different registers (levels of formality), modes (mediums of communication be it written or spoken) and social contexts vary. As I have written in a previous post, I had quite a challenge sitting for the Malay oral exam even though I use colloquial Malay in my everyday speech without hesitation. Similarly, I have had moments during a strictly English conversation when I wanted to voice a specific thought that comes to my mind in Malay (or even worse, Terengganuspeak) but I had to quickly rummage for an English equivalent as there is no perfect substitute.

And these situations often makes me wonder, had I not taken most of my vocabulary from the English dictionary and had Malay not been my mother tongue, would I be confident enough to call myself an English or Malay speaker?

These questions are bothering me off-late because I had just been working on a video project with my brother where I teach Spanish through songs for Utusan’s freshly launched youth section, Upster. I’ve received surprised comments from people I know that they never knew that I could speak Spanish. Which makes me wonder, could I?

Several years back my siblings and I were on TV Al Hijrah’s morning talk show, ‘Assalamualaikum’, where we talked about our attempts at learning different foreign languages. We mentioned that we have a WhatsApp group where we all typed in the basic form of our respective languages with creative combinations to make up for words that we did not know (I, for one, had used ‘piscina grande natural’ to describe a lake).

And although we hadn’t done that for a while, my sister, Anisah, who studies Portuguese, and I still do speak a bit of the languages we learn with each other for practice. My mother would excitedly answer “Sí, claro,” whenever I ask for a ‘tenedor’. And since I had often offered to fry eggs for Ali, he now hears ‘huevo’ in everything that I say. While doing chores, I turn on Pocoyó en español or Plaza Sesamo. Sometimes I even watch shows in Spanish without the subtitles and while I am not at the point where I can understand everything, I can definitely get most of what is going on. And of course all four of us still do our Duolingo practices.

As of now, I don’t think I am close to being able to call myself a fluent Spanish speaker but I am decently confident that if I were to be dropped in the middle of Mexico (for my Spanish resources are usually based in Latin American Spanish), I can understand and make myself understood well enough. My conjugations are incomplete, I’m still not completely sure when should I use the subjunctive mood and my Spanish vocabulary is like the nursery of a newly expecting mother, still somewhat bare; but new things are constantly being added in and every visit is accompanied by a flurry of excitement.

I hadn’t been the best of learners. I started dabbling in Spanish when I was very young. The first word I remember learning was ‘fin’ that my mother taught me before I even went to school. When I was ten, I fluttered about the US airports with a pen and a notebook, busily copying the bilingual signs I could see. I still have my notes from my Dora The Explorer and Barney days, with entertaining spellings, like ‘komotiyama’ (como te llama – what is your name?) and ‘elargoiris’ (el arco iris – the rainbow), and when I was fourteen, my mother bought me a book on the basics of Spanish and I was ecstatic to find that I had been reading Spanish correctly even before I knew the hard and fast rules on where and when to stress a syllable.

But even after all that, whenever I am alone in my room and I want to speak the little Spanish that I know to myself, I’ll often repeat “Espérate, necesito tiempo para pensar,” – wait, I need time to think. I know that I’m butchering my preterit and future tenses (let’s not even talk about participles) and I still mix and match different words to talk about things I hadn’t learned.

There’s a part of me that often gets upset with myself as throughout this time, I could have been much better at my Spanish. However there’s also a side that is proud to know that even though I hadn’t done my best, it’s something that I still keep close and visit often unlike some of my interests that I’ve picked and dropped throughout the years. And one day, I’d like to be able to speak well enough to understand the nuances that comes with learning a new language and see the world through the lens of el idioma español con toda su cultura.

But until then, I’m perfectly happy with saying, “Necesito un bolígrafo nuevo, este no funciona,” just to hear Ali’s confused voice asking me “You need eggs?”

You can watch my ‘Kelas Bahasa’ video on Utusan Upster here.


“A Moment With English – Enjoying English” @ SK Padang Hiliran

Last Sunday, Alam Akademik Sdn. Bhd. (my grandmother’s bookstore which is also known as Keda Pok Loh Yunang) organized a program at Sekolah Kebangsaan Padang Hiliran in Kuala Terengganu. The program started at 9 a.m. and ended at 11.20 a.m. It was held at the school hall. The program was attended by students from Year 3,4,5 and 6.

The kids listening to our little presentations

The kids listening to our little presentations

We hope to share our experiences in Public Speaking with all of our friends at Sekolah Kebangsaan Padang Hiliran. We had a real good time at the school. The students are really brave and smart. They came forward to read and answer questions. I’m so proud of them. We hope our friends in Sekolah Kebangsaan Padang Hiliran will enjoy learning English for we need to learn other languages to be smart and knowledgeable.

Syazaliana, the first person brave enough to raise up her hand

Syazaliana, the first person brave enough to raise up her hand.

I did a book reading and spoke about ‘The Creation Of Universe’ based on the book by the same tittle written by Prof Muhammad Al-Mahdi. I read a chapter of Growing Up In Terengganu by Awang Goneng titled ‘Budu Spell’ which is very interesting and funny at the same time. My little sister Aeshah did what she does best… STORYTELLING!!! And Anisah sang a butterfly song. My little blogging brother Ahmad Ali, read a post from his famous blog entitled ‘Swine Flu’.

A photo of me delivering my speech

A photo of me delivering my speech

We ended the program by singing the Khalifah Song and Guantanamera. Guantanamera is the most popular song in Cuba and is an unofficial national anthem of Cuba. This Spanish Song is so beautiful and I can never be tired of hearing it.

The Sandpipers singing Guantanamera

The Sandpipers singing Guantanamera

I really had a good time too. I hope we can inspire them to learn English and other languages and be good oriaters… I wish to thank the headmaster and the teachers for inviting us to the school and for the token given to us by the school. I would also like to thank Syaza and all those from SK Padang Hiliran who had been reading my blog.

My little brother, Ahmad Ali, made new friends at the school. The girl in the middle (beside the boy) is Syazaliana. Perhaps she would name the rest of her friends for me...

My little brother, Ahmad Ali, made new friends at the school. The second boy is Izzat. The other two boys beside him are from Year 4 (if anyone know their names please inform me). The girls from left are Syazaliana, Hazirah, Adlin and Puteri. The boy in front... I don't think I need to tell you but just in case, AHMAD ALI himself!

Guantanamera – A Girl from Guantanamo

One of the first things that may come to our minds when coming across the word Guantanamo, is the nasty prison in Guantanamo Bay. But fortunately, not everything about Guantanamo is ugly and nasty;  in fact Guantanamo may also reminds us of something as sweet and beautiful as the song. ‘Guantanamera’ or in English it means ‘a girl from Guantanamo’.

I’ve been hearing the chorus of this beautiful song ever since I can remember; for mum loves to sing it to herself every now and then. And since mum only sang very few songs to herself, I’ve been asking mum about the song for years. Anyway mum could only remember the chorus for it was an old, old song that mum used to hear ever since she was a baby. And since she was only about 2 or 3 years old when she started to sing the song, the chorus is all that mum can remember about it’s lyrics. So, what I heard was only:

‘Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera,

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera…’

And a few days ago I was really thrilled when I heard a very sweet song from dad’s laptop. To my surprise, it was the song that I’ve been longing to listen to all these years – GUANTANAMERA! The song is so sweet and beautiful and the lyrics are as beautiful as the song that I just want to hear it again and again. Even my 5 years old little brother Ahmad Ali was attracted to the song. The very moment he heard the lyrics he knew that it is a Spanish song and now he always sing the song and even surfed the internet for the lyrics to write in his blog.

Dad played a few video clips for us but the one sang by Sandpipers is the best even though Pete Seeger’s was quite nice too. Some others’ sound so weird and the changed in its music arrangements made the music sounded so different and not as melodious as the music in the video clip that was sang by Sandpipers.

Impressed by this lovely song, I surfed the internet to find out more about the song.  In fact the history behind the song is as amazing as the song itself! It is perhaps the best known Cuban song and is the most noted patriotic song in Cuba. The song was written in 1929 by Jose Fernandez Diaz or also known as Joserto Fernandez. Anyway the beter known official lyrics are based on Jose Marti’s poem (‘Yo so un hombre sincero’ – written in 1895) as adapted by Julian Orbon. As Jose was Cuba’s nationalist poet and independance hero, the use of his poem as the lyrics virtually elevated the song to an unofficial anthem status in the country!

Note: For more information on the song including it’s lyrics, please visit this link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guantanamera).