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.


  1. Dang, that's one reason I'm glad I'm not white. People at least censor themselves around me. Like, I can tell they're thinking it, but I don't have to hear that crap.

  2. I took Spanish for 4 years,and got straight A's!
    Then I went to Mexico and got blank stares.
    Finally,I worked for ten years in a factory that hired mostly immigrants,and I can get around fairly well in Mexico now.
    No real point..Just sayin'.

  3. Buena suerte...dude, you are so gonna need it if you're surrounded by such, um, quirky personalities.

    Being an undercover mexican, I heard similar tales and more back in my college daze...and don't you just wish you were making it all up? :)

  4. WM: Pontosan! That's exactly it, whenever it's an all white crowd - or damn, they'll even do it around Asian folks, sometimes -- they just assume we're all the same page, and the creepy comments start flying.

    Slingster: Nice! See, immersion is what works. Especially the way we teach foreign language here. It's not very effective, unfortunately. Yeah, definitely being around the language in real life the thing that works.

    Tactless Wonder: Gracias! No tengo mucha suerte, though. Was that even right? And yes, I do wish I was making it all up. If only ...

  5. You can come down here to Socal and get complete immersion. Although I love Mexico, would love to live there. It is best that snobby people dont realize it is an absolutely beautiful country with beautiful people and a rich history.
    My Ex-girlfriend was a spanish teacher. SHe was born in Gibraltor and came to America in her twenties. Since Gibraltor is a British Colony in Southern Spain, the language is a mix. Very unique. I actually have no point..ha ha

  6. I married two Mexican men who were both half American Indian. i have no talent for second languages...the only Italian word I remembered from my classes was the word for ferry. people are idiots sometimes and elitist, arrogant whities. I do like tamales however....no point in my comment either.

  7. Oh Americans.... we're such a bunch of nitwits. When I was in high school (in TAIWAN!) I knew so so many American kids who not only never bothered to learn Chinese, but who also never went beyond the base or the school and never used Taiwanese money! In Taiwan! So none of this surprises me. Saddens me, yes. Surprises me, no.

    On the bright side, this will give you a really good excuse to go have a vaca... I mean immersion experience in Mexico!!!!

  8. This story is funny and sad all at once. I my travels I had to learn languages and I did well in some like Spanish which I have been using now for 25 yrs and not so good with other languages like Mandarin, never understood that one. But people are silly and arrogant.
    As for your school mate who wants to teach English in Spain, sorry lots of Brits do that now and Spaniards are clever people. As for countries like Argentina, again she would have a problem. Teaching English to just about anyone, she should try Egypt or the P.R. of China. But that is real foreign.

  9. Soooo funny. Didn't know I lived in hawaii???I had to copy that picture of the American world...now here is the thing...why and I have asked this before, do you call yourselves American. America, north and South is a whole lot of independent countries...The Canadian, mexicans, Argentinians etc don't call themselves American but they would have the same logical right to do so... its just bothered me a bit.

  10. I recently moved from Miami to Atlanta, and I keep choking every time someone here refers to people from Mexico and Honduras as "the Span-eesh." I doubt that a significant percentage of Mexicans and Hondurans refer to Americans as "los Ingeses." But, I could be wrong.

  11. I totally don't get that whole "spanish" when not from Spain thing either. I had a good friend who was married to a Guatemalan who used to say that.
    Anyway, thanks for the laugh - much needed on a Monday. It made me relive my horrific semester in Community College Spanish (I took after graduating, just for fun, I'm also fluent in German and Norwegian, and took a smidge of French) so I thought I'd see how I could do. I'm with ya on the immersion. I learned NUTHIN' in the class!

  12. It's been a long time since I've checked in with your blog and well...sigh.....Aye Dios Mi!

    You haven't lived until you've heard Spanish being spoken with a Texas accent - they all sound like Peggy Hill.

    I'm surprised none of them said they're learning Spanish so they can better communicate with their housekeepers!

    I've got a headache....

  13. Una más cosa - quise originalmente aprender español porque caí en amor con un hombre de Puerto Rico. Ahora estudio español porque amo la lengua.


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