01 August 2009

Adventures in Spanish Class

So I'm taking two classes this quarter, including Spanish. Given the work I'm doing with the school district and the commissioner position with the city, I figured I need to get off my ass and hablar. My German and Hungarian aren't doing me much good these days.

Please. Look at me, acting like I ever could ever actually speak Hungarian.

This is the first time I've tried to learn a language without living in a country where that language is spoken. Immersion is the way to go, folks. Also, having learned other languages is an advantage because concepts are familiar, but it's a disadvantage when the teacher calls on you, and you  pop out with something like, "Igen, tengo harom Kinderek," or some other fucked-up linguistic amalgam.

The instructor is excelente. He's a native Spanish speaker who doesn't baby you or move at a snail's pace. Thankgawd. My kids' high school Spanish teacher was this white lady with the absolute worst gringa accent ever. Like when you jam pencils in your ears to make it stop. School districts won't hire qualified native speakers but will hire less-proficient people to teach a language. The only native speaker in my district is the Chinese teacher, and I bet you $10 that's only because they couldn't find a non-Chinese person who speaks passable Chinese. Sounds kind of like affirmative action for white folks.

But I digress. So, my class. It's amazing, the comments that fall out of people's mouths. The instructor sometimes mutters under his breath that he only has X number of years before he can retire. He gives "cultural points" for extra credit. You have to write about one of his recommended books, films, restaurants or dance places.

I wish he'd never assigned that shit.

Classmate 1 (raising hand): So, for the cultural points ... does Azteca count?

No. Not even kidding. But that was fine compared to what came later.

Classmate 2 (to me): Well, for my cultural points, I had a coffee date with a Spanish man!

Me: (ohmyfuckinggod) I ... didn't realize you had a friend from Spain.

Classmate 2: Oh, he's not from Spain! I wish!

Me: (here we go) So, he's not Spanish.  He speaks Spanish.

Classmate 2: (blank stare) Um ...

Me: If he's not from Spain, he's not Spanish.

Classmate 2: Well, he's ... where is he from? Oh! Brazil! He's from Brazil.

Me: Brazil? And he speaks Spanish? That's interesting ...

Classmate 2: Well, not really, seeing as he's from Brazil!

Me: They speak Portuguese in Brazil.

Classmate 2: (blank stare) Well ... I don't know about all that, but a date with a Spanish man should work for cultural points! And, he was muy caliente!

Then there was the time she slipped me a note about our instructor that said, "He's such a Latin macho! But I like him!!" Yeah, I'm sure the professor will be thrilled that he meets with your approval in spite of his alleged machismo. The reason he has been pegged as such is that he insists on proper grammar and pronunciation, and doesn't do a lot of hand-holding.

 I'm thinking that makes him a "good instructor" rather than a "Latin macho", but what do I know.

So I go to this study group the other day. I was invited by a woman who speaks English fluently after only two and a half years in-country. Spanish will be her fourth language. I figure she knows how the hell to learn a language, I'm studying with her. Another woman in the group, a self-professed conservative Republican proceeded to trash President Obama, informing the younger students that the President is a socialist who's gotten the country into debt. Yeah, honey, I think the last eight years had something to do with that, actually. Anyway, she had these gems to offer:

Classmate 3: Well, my introduction to this culture was dating a Spanish man for five years. I was practically a member of his family! But I never learned the language.

Me: (Again with the Spanish man.) So ... he was from Spain?

Classmate 3: Well, he was half Mexican and half Apache on his father's side, so you know ... [waves hand, dismissively] but his mother, she was born in Spain, so ...

Me: So he was Mexican as well.

Classmate 3: Well ... anyway, you know how most Mexicans have, you know, Aztec or Maya background? Well, he had Apache, so he had the very defined cheekbones. He never cut his hair; his father told him never to cut it because he was a warrior, you know. I got in touch with him some time later, and asked if his hair was still long, and he was all [mimes annoyance] "Yeeesss...", and I was like, dude, you're 55 years old now!

Me: That's his culture, it doesn't have an expiration date.

Classmate 3: Oh, totally! I know! He was just beautiful! So exotic! Anyway, the reason I'm taking this class is so I can move somewhere and teach English as a Second Language. I want to get certified to teach Spanish too.

Another classmate: Really? Where?

Classmate 3: Well, I lived in Arizona for years, but never even crossed the border, because you know, [dismissive wave] Mexico, I just didn't care. But Spain or Argentina ... I'd love to go there! Yep, much more interested in Spain or South America than Central America or Mexico. But I wouldn't say that to my friend!

Everyone else: ...

Classmate 3: In fact, another friend -- he's a very wealthy Argentinian -- actually said to me [mimes snootyassedness] "You're speaking with a Mexican accent!"  But I wouldn't say that to my friend, the one I was telling you about!

Me: What friend? (wondering how this chick is picking up a Mexican accent when our instructor is Puerto Rican)

Classmate 3: Oh, my friend who helps me with my assignments. She checks all my homework for me. She's Mexican.

Are you fucking kidding me? So ... your friend is good enough to check your homework, work on your assignments with you, and basically help you get an A in the class, but you don't want to pick up her accent or visit her country? In fact, you want to learn her language in order to move to one of the countries with a higher population of what you consider white people, and get paid to teach -- probably in a position where your friend, the native speaker who helped your ass pass this class, wouldn't be hired.

 What the hell, people?

Needless to say, she clammed up when I started up about how great it is that our instructor is a native speaker, because some schools pass over the native speakers to hire gringos, and then you don't get good instruction, because they're, you know, [dismissive wave] not as qualified.

I'm going to go off before I hit Spanish III, I just know it.