Back to Menus in Spain, Part 1 (Ponferrada)

This is another post of how I keep switching my focus from the original intent of this blog (which documents a project I’m doing) and I’m coming full circle back to my original studies.

638 days ago I switched my focus on studying menus in Spain to actually learning Spanish. Many people said: a) I couldn’t read menus without knowing Spanish, and, b) knowing Spanish means I could read menus. After 43 months on this project I’m prepared to conclude: a) one can read menus just fine with only rudimentary Spanish, a good dictionary, Google Translate and searches for hard to find difficult terms, and, b) knowing Spanish, at least through all the learning techniques I’ve tried does relatively little in helping to read menus (and for that matter, in discussing them with the camarero unless you get a lot better at the speaking part of a new language than I have).

In the 638 days learning Spanish, despite my conclusion it isn’t much help in reading menus, I’ve tried many different ways to learn. My primary work (at least an hour a day average) is Duolingo (which is actually fairly similar to other online learning tools, I’ve sampled most of those) and I’ve now completed all of the drills (L5) in about 2/3rds of the lessons (aka skills) for something in excess of 100,000 individual drills!

Meanwhile many advocate doing reading instead and so I have numerous books (or online stories I’ve found) where I’ve tried both “intensive” and “extensive” reading (not worth explaining). Later I found lots of online listening exercises including a couple of great podcasts and several great YouTube tutoring exercises. And I finally I’ve now finished Spanish 1 (somewhere between CERF A1 and A2) with 30 2-hour live sessions (in Zoom mostly with a native Spanish speaking tutor).

In short, about the only thing more I could do is pack and move to Spain, to some small town, where no ones knows any English and I’d have to speak/understand Spanish exclusively. So, IOW, my efforts are certainly equivalent to at least one high school year of Spanish, maybe a bit more. And, this is not a lot of help reading menus.

And since the teacher for my live classes was in Mexico and providing a lot of Mexican life (not just Spanish) including food and dining I began to get more interested in menus in Mexico. I like (and know from US experience) Mexican food better than Spanish, but I did acquire multiple Spain cookbooks (as well as two extensive cooking/recipe online sites) and even growing Padrón peppers in our garden and learning to prepare them as in a common appetizer in Spain. So I started to look at menus in Mexico, but: a) fewer restaurants (at least Mexican food) have online menus to study, and, b) so many of the terms on menus are either native language (or derivatives) and thus not in any Spanish dictionary, including the official one, and/or the terms are just very unique to Mexico and might not even apply to other Spanish speaking countries, say Colombia, where I’ve also been studying an excellent cooking and recipe site.

And, for some other post in detail, but a brief mention here, I’ve gotten very burned out on all this study, plus I beat myself up for all the mistakes I continue to make (of things I’ve “learned” but still often get wrong). It’s frustrating to me that for something half a billion people easily do I struggle. I admit to having zero talent for languages, plus I can fall back of the being old (actually really old for this point) and that learning a new language is easier for the young.

But the key point is that it’s not much fun anymore. And, in comparison, I didn’t get tired of reading menus. All this Spanish study consumes almost all the energy I have and therefore I’ve essentially stopped working on my original project, i.e. building a software tool to “translate” menus in Spain, which I’ve also learned can’t really be done, since it’s not just words (to English words, even counting grammar and structure), but you have to include Spanish cuisine as well to understand a menu since many dishes have no English (at least USA) counterpart.

BUT, I remain undaunted on trying anyway.

So for all these reasons I’m back to studying menus in Spain and thinking about how to create my corpus to feed my specialized translation tool I still hope to create.
So with all this as background I’m going to do a series of posts as elaboration of the background material, starting with some menus in Ponferrada Spain, an interesting city along the Camino de Santiago. I hope, Dear Reader, you’ll could along for the ride for perhaps more interesting material than this preface.

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