Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Yo Hablar Español

My relationship with the Spanish language has been a bit complex. At the age of 5, thanks to my Ecuadorian babysitter, I was a Spanish/English bilingual child. However, a 5 year stint in Indiana left me a monolingual English speaker. When we returned to New Mexico I had some receptive skills in Spanish, and could follow a basic conversation. Unfortunately, I refused to speak the language, even with my my Maternal Grandparents, and my relearning Spanish was pretty much given up as a lost cause. It wasn't until High School that I was given the opportunity to recover what I had lost by the Foreign Language Requirement. However, instead of studying Spanish, I opted for the more romanticized French.  It wasn't until my University Studies, when I found out that I had to wait until my Senior year to study in France that I turned back to my heritage language--the Spanish Department let you head off to Spain with just 15 credits under your belt.
Over the course of the next several years I was on the road back to bilingualism, and I eventually returned to the Albuquerque Public School System as a Spanish Bilingual Teacher. During my first year of teaching it was brought to my attention that I had some serious issues with my grammar structures--perhaps if I had spent more time in the classrooms than the streets of Spain I would use verb tenses other than just the present. I needed to do something about mastering Spanish grammar or I would not to continue to teach in Spanish. So, thanks to a scholarship the following summer I headed south of the boarder to a Mexican Language School. I knew that by the end of summer I had to be able to write a grammatically correct letter in Spanish or kiss my job goodbye.
I can't say that I got off to a good start. I arrived at the school late, and was given a shortened version of the placement exam. The test consisted of the question "What do you want to buy while in Mexico?"  I replied "Nothing." I guess I should have elaborated on how I was not in Mexico to shop, party or have fun--that my only goal was to learn how to speak in the past and subjunctive, because my simple "nada" earned me a spot in the beginner level class.
I couldn't help but feel a bit shy as I stood in the doorway of a class that was already underway. I anxiously looked from face to face, and to my relief there was someone in the group that I knew. I couldn't believe my luck. Smack in the middle of the group sat Dr. Peter, the President of the University of New Mexico, and next to him was his wife! With a feeling of relief, I confidently introduced myself and joined the group.
Like with any student that has been incorrectly placed in a leveled group it didn't take long for me to get bored. I wanted to study language structure, not make lists of barnyard animals. Unfortunately, my inner-child decided to let my dissatisfaction be known when Dr. Peter added "buey" (ox) to the list. From somewhere deep inside a little giggle escaped my lips. I was shot a look by the instructor and I quickly quieted, but the damage had been done. Juan was forced to explain how in Mexico the term for a  castrated bull, buey, is a derogatory term often used in male banter.
The next animal added was mosca, thank God it wasn't ladybug. I instantly felt my hand fly up into the air, and it wasn't long before I found myself arguing in perfectly pronounced present tense Spanish whether or not the list should include invertebrates, since the insect belongs to the Arthropod family. When I finished my little speech, I found the faces of my classmates frozen in horror (not all that different from the mummies of Guanajato). As Juan stood tapping his foot, I couldn't help but wonder if I was going to sent to the Principal's Office. Instead, the whole class was sent for an early break.
It didn't surprise me too much when the School Director sought me out to let me know that a mistake had been made and that they were in the process of finding me a private instructor who would focus on advanced grammar. To everyone else's relief I was sent home early. In my younger years I would have rejoiced and headed to the Zocalo for lime ice-cream float, however, the new student in me couldn't help but pout since all I wanted to do was study.

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