Audio-lingual meatballs

From dinner at Reposado (‘quiet, restful’) — an upscale and elegant Mexican restaurant in Palo Alto — on the 14th, albondigas (‘meatballs’):

From the menu:

Pork and beef meatballs, root vegetable puree, tomato oregano sauce, demi glace, cotija cheese

Here, just the meatballs in a tomato sauce; but albondigas are most often served in a broth, as meatball soup.

Photo by Ned Deily, who ordered the dish in a bow to his high school Spanish class, which was taught resolutely by the audio-lingual method; students had to memorize and repeat dialogues, in particular one about albondigas that has stuck with him through all the years since.

The dish. From a recipe site, instructions for

Grandma Salazar’s Albóndigas Soup: Albóndigas soup is a traditional Mexican soup featuring spicy meatballs offset by the fresh flavors of vegetables and herbs.

[Digression: I’m afraid that I can’t hear or read “spicy meatball” without recalling the classic 1969 Alka-Seltzer ad, “Mamma Mia, that’s a spicy meatball!”, viewable here.]

For the meatballs, in brief:

Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1 1/4 cups. Combine rice, cooked onion, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup cilantro, cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt, oregano, pork, sirloin, and egg whites, stirring well. Shape mixture into 29 (1-inch) meatballs.

The dialogue. From the Encantada blog by DBG, “Albondigas — no te dije?” of 4/6/11:

In the 1950’s, ALM — the Audio Lingual Method — was a popular theory of language instruction. Despite the fact that it was “discredited” by linguists like Noam Chomsky as early as 1959, it was still the method of choice at Slidell High School when I was a student there in the 1970’s. My quest to learn Spanish began in 9th grade by memorizing a dialog I still remember today:

Hola, Isabel, como estas?
Estoy bien, gracias, y tu?
Bien gracias. Oye, quien es ese chico?
Es un amigo mio.
Como se llama?
Se llama Juan. Ven y te lo presento.

This was accomplished by Mrs. S presenting bits of phrases for us to repeat over and over the first week of class. We were not given a book nor allowed to see any of this in writing. The second week, we threaded the phrases into still-unintelligible sentences. The third week we repeated these sentences in unison with an LP that played through our antiquated headphones. If all this wasn’t funny enough, the headphones were not synchronized, and some were off by as much as five seconds, resulting in mayhem dressed up in very bad Spanish accents.

One of the dialogs we memorized those first weeks took place in a school cafeteria and had one student declare to another, “Albondigas! No te dije?” Even then, we all knew that there would never come a time when we would have occasion to say, “Meatballs! Didn’t I tell you?” It soon became a secret shorthand outside of class. Whenever an adult did something we thought silly or asinine, one of us would shake our heads sadly and sigh, “Albondigas! No te dije?” and the rest of us would laugh our heads off. This continued until a new student from Puerto Rico smirkingly informed us that we were screaming out a word that was slang for “testicles” in Spanish! [but of course: albondigas was bound to be slang for ‘testicles’ in some dialect of Spanish.]

Before ALM, I’d always liked hearing foreign languages and often listened to Spanish and French language radio shows or broadcasts of Saturday evening mass in Latin. I even thought I wanted to major in languages in college and become a language professor, so you can imagine my dismay with the Spanish language. I couldn’t understand why I hated it so much. If this was what majoring in a foreign language would be like, I wasn’t having any of it. I decided I’d major in English Lit and become a writer instead.

(My experience with ALM — at Princeton, for German rather than Spanish — is summarized in “Language instruction fun” of 2/28/12.)

One Response to “Audio-lingual meatballs”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Benita Bendon Campbell in e-mail:

    A bitter-sweet jaunt down memory lane. Ed [her husband Ed Campbell] recalls that the French A-L M version of the “Albondigas” dialogue whined because the cafeteria was serving “Du riz, encore une fois.” (“Rice, yet again.”) No testicles.

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