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October 19, 2010

From Plato to Shear Cliff - the learning curve

Somewhere between translating Wikipedia's "Plato" and teaching my fourth class on square roots and powers, I found an odd bit of inspiration.  The past few weeks I've felt as if I've been treading water, just bellow the surface.  My spanish has been less than subpar, I've been swindled every way a person can be, and I have yet to make friends with a single spanish person my age.  However, I have had a couple of really great classes, learned the in's and out's of a different (but all too similar) bureaucratic system, and the friendships I've made with teachers, and other americans more than accounts for what I'm lacking with my foreign peers.  This constant of surpassing expectations, and then falling short with others, has been a roller-coaster of up's and down's. 

If you were to chart progress of a typical person in intense language learning, it would be a series of learning curves, or plateaus. Like this:
This is the day to days (micro level).  However, if you looked at the big picture (or macro level) it would be an exponential graph like so:
(cool graphics I know, even thought they're not mine)
With one exception, the end would level off somewhere near being fluent.

The thing to remember in all this is the line never actually goes down in the learning plateaus (I'm not saying that without practice for long periods of time, you won't digress).  But, that the plateaus may feel like you're getting worse because you're not learning at the same rate.

So, relating back to what I was talking about before...

My life has been so filled with adjusting to daily life, that I haven't made much headway in my goals.  Just now, as I walked home to my wonderful apartment, words that were once strange like, Eroski and NIE, have moved past familiar to quotidian.  Without stumbling blocks like these, I've finally been able to grasp language concepts again.  The epiphany, however inconsequential you may deem it, is that in retrospect, I was in a learning curve, an academic funk, and that with perspective, things weren't bad, but merely not as great as before.

So why was this curve so hard to recognize?  More importantly, why was it so easy to recognize now that I am on the upward (or, at least hope I am)?

That got me thinking about another learning curve I've recently been coming out of.  It's an interesting juxtaposition leaving home, the land of the free, to come to a country that, thirty years ago, was ruled by one of the worst fascist in contemporary history.  Only to find that, globally we're know as the most oppressive, progressive nation.  More recently, Spain was among the first to grant marriage and adoption rights, but more importantly full civil rights to all couples.  I come from the state in the Union, that has "won the war on H8."  But now, I'm in the autonomous community that has won the title "the modern model of progress and fun."  The hardest part for me is that people here have no empathy.  Take a minute to let that sink in.  Yes, they have no empathy.  They don't have empathy because the rising generation hasn't witnessed this kind of oppression.  For the life of them, they cannot understand, nor do they believe that it is legal to loose your job, or your apartment just because you're gay.  At first they can't grasp it, but when they do, they feel for us.  I think many of us believe that one day the U.S. will be at this same point on the learning curve.  Imagine my surprise as I've tip-toed around the subject of who I'm dating (if not just avoiding it altogether) while everyone around me talks freely, naturally, and openly about their dating lives.  Only to hear that it's de moda to go to the local gay bars.  In fact, most gay bars in Malaga have become "mixed" because, people don't notice as much as they used to.

While I love my country, it's hard when what you love hurts you.  What can I compare my relationship to, but that of an abusive guardian.  The good news is that when the learning plateau ends, it's only up from here.


  1. Classic Dr. Seuss quote comes to mind:

    "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

  2. http://open.salon.com/blog/mary_ann_sorrentino/2010/06/06/the_gay_in_spain_where_pain_is_on_the_wane

  3. great article from salon.com

  4. It's kind of a love/hate relationship with our country. I'm glad that you feel more free to be who you are there. That's gotta be a nice change. I'm working on making that happen on the flipside! I love you!