Context is very powerful

I’ve been teaching myself Spanish for the past six weeks or so, and am at the point where I can read very simple fiction such as the stories in this book, which are designed specifically for beginners, and use only simple, common words and phrases.

Although I don’t know all the words, and am still very confused by the grammar rules, tenses, and all that kind of stuff, it is surprising how easy it is to understand what a sentence as a whole means based on context. I find myself reading sentences, guessing at the meanings of words that I don’t know based on the sentence as a whole, and coming up with what I think the sentence means… and being right. Of course, sometimes I’m wrong (I always check, anyways) but not very often.

I remember being young and doing this with English words I didn’t know (before google!). If you see a word in context enough times you just learn what it means without anyone telling you, or if not exactly, then you get an aura, or flavor of what it generally means.

I also think that, aside from learning the meanings of words, we can learn all kinds of things just from context. Why did some character say a certain word, or act a certain way? What are a characters motivations or fears? We learn these things by the things that happen around the character. Not by having them explicitly, painfully, detailed for us.

Anyway, I’m having a lot of fun learning. It gives me that little hit of dopamine every time I successfully decipher a sentence, like solving a puzzle. My hope is that, if I can get good enough at it to read actual novels, I will become fluent through osmosis, by just reading and reading, which is how I got good at English, after all.

Then I could read Marquez and Borges in their original text! 😮 Life goals!

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Distant love

Fermina and Florintino have broken it off, and the arc of their romance reminds me of many internet relationships of modern day.

The two of them communicated nearly exclusively via letters, even though they lived in the same town. Then when Fermina moved away, they continued their correspondence for several years, eventually agreeing to marry–all while having said no more than a few sentences to eachother in person, and those years ago.

Then, one day Flortintino comes upon Fermina in the market and whispers in her ear–something that took great courage, as Florintino was always completely paralyzed when he saw her, and could only watch from afar–but when she turns and sees his face up close, the spell is broken, and she realizes it’s all been an illusion. She leaves, and drops the whole thing that moment, never answering his letters or seeing him again–all too easy for her, since they only spoke via letters, and no one other than her father and one cousin even knew he existed.

This kind of ephemeral relationship, though possibly rare and strange in the past, is now commonplace with the advent of the internet. I’m sure countless people can identify with either Florintino–who fell madly in love with someone he’d basically never met in real life, and then was destroyed when she vanished. Or with Fermina, who realized she was in too deep with someone who, in actuality, was a complete stranger, and cut it off while she could.

A good story stays relevant over the years, and this one has in ways the author probably never anticipated…