Tutor profile: Alison M.
What's the hardest thing about learning Spanish?
I found that there were two beyond difficult aspects of learning to speak Spanish. First of all, the elements of the language that just don’t exist in English. We have nothing like the subjunctive tense in English. I almost couldn’t conceive of a need or use for it; what was there, I thought, if I had already made it so many years without? Of course, I couldn’t conceive of the subtleties that one could express with the subjunctive tense or the imperfect tense until I had spent years conversing with native speakers. Only then did I understand the complexities and how the language really functioned. And also, only then did I feel that there would be things I couldn’t express with my own native language. But in the early years, these tenses were a mystery to me, a mystery that often frustrated me to no end; they were not easy. The other difficult part about learning to speak Spanish was the constant humbling that took place. I told an entire college class once that people were pregnant by the government (I quickly learned that the Spanish word for embarrassed was “avergonzado” and not “embarazado”) and mistakenly asked my Spanish host mother if we were having testicles for dinner, instead of mussels. I had people look at me strange, patronize me, or avoid talking to me altogether. It’s an uncomfortable thing to sound like you are four-years-old when you are eighteen, let alone thirty or even sixty. It’s really hard, but I’ll also say it’s really worth it. That’s why when a friend living in Nicaragua with me and still learning to speak Spanish accidentally referred to “food preservatives” as “condoms” I heartily laughed along with her, then continued to encourage her to keep on speaking.
What are some helpful ways to improve your writing?
Reading. Reading. And then more reading. If you want to become a better writer, you must first become a reader. Reading exposes us to different writers, who have different vocabularies, styles, linguistic backgrounds, and perceptions of the world. They show us different ways to manipulate syntax, the power of a spot-on metaphor, the emotion that can be contained in ink on a page. They teach us the many ways to tell a story. If you want to become a good writer, you must read. And then, you must write. Write everything you can for everyone you can. Write down your experiences. Put the stories and jokes you tell people about yourself, your family, your experience into words and on a page. Respond to writing prompts, write poetry, compose father’s day cards. Write about the simple things and the profound things, for the both matter. Finally, share your writing. We hate it—I love writing and I even hate it—but each person has a unique experience of our writing that can help us to grow as writers. The more perspectives and opinions we receive, the more opportunities for growth. In writing, vulnerability is, in fact, your greatest strength.
In an increasingly digital--and often visual--world, what place does literature have? Is literature still important for today's world, and, if so, how?
I know someone who teasing likes to ask me “If I can watch the movie, why should I read the book?” Of course, I don’t answer him because he isn’t looking for the answer. He wants easily digestible, condensed, bright and flashy images to tell him a story. Truly, don’t we all sometimes? However, outside of this bantering context the question is really a profound one, not only worth considering, but also answering. So why is literature (still) so important? Literature, at its essence, is humanity’s best characteristic and greatest asset, for literature is the embodiment of our penchant for storytelling. We have always told stories, whether about gods coming down from the heavens to play tricks on mortals, men who perform miracles to feed hungry thousands, or giant space explosions that result in the creation of a beautiful universe. Our stories connect us to the past, the present, the future, our world, and most importantly, to each other. I know my most cherished memories involve bedtime stories, made all the more special by the people they were shared with. Truly, storytelling, at its best, removes us from our disenchanted world by re-instilling our faith in the mystery all around us. In the words of one today’s most spellbinding writers, J.K. Rowling “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” Books, most particularly, allow us to create the story within our mind, stretching the limits of our imagination and of ourselves. I can’t think of a movie that does just that. A world without books, in my very humble opinion, is indeed a world without magic. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “It now appears that books…are obsolescent. My grandchildren are already doing much of their reading from words projected on the face of a video screen.” But “books,” he goes on, “because of their weight and texture, and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and our eyes, and then our minds and souls, in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.” I must agree; a world with humans will always need literature.
needs and Alison will reply soon.