To Do

Work in Progress

6. Learn to speak Spanish

My Story

Updated February 19, 2009

I have to tell you that I think that learning a language is a life-long activity, so you may never see me move this one to the completed list.

My experience with Spanish began when I was in third grade. My elementary school had a program named “E.T.” I have no idea what that stands for, but they took 5 or 6 kids who were getting high marks and they would meet in E.T. class a couple times a week for lessons above and beyond the usual curriculum. I was supposed to be included in this program but there was a mix-up (read: my teacher had really, really bad handwriting) and they put this other kid with a name similar to mine in the program instead. When my teacher tried to fix the mistake, she was told it was too late and I had missed too much. (Who said life is fair?)

But, the people who DID get into E.T. were my friends, so I knew what they were doing in their E.T. lessons. Spanish interested me, so I took a book on the subject out of the library. It was a cute little book intended to teach children how to speak Spanish. The book introduced each letter of the Spanish alphabet to the reader as though it were a person. I still remember “Meet H – the silent letter” and “Ñ – the nosy letter.” I taught myself a little Spanish. I was so proud to say my first sentence: “María y Pedro beben mucho chocolate leche.” (Maria and Pedro drink a lot of chocolate milk. Very useful if you’re ever lost in Mexico, but that’s a different story.)

After that, I just sort of forgot about Spanish and when it came time to pick a foreign language in eighth grade, I chose the romantic language of French, somehow thinking that it would be more useful than Spanish since I lived only a few hours from the Canadian border, and dreamed of visiting France one day. (Naive pre-teen assumption: that I would always live right where I was).

My next experience with Spanish wouldn’t come until I was 19 years old, and moved to Southern California. I would get lost or go exploring (the two are the same for me) and find myself in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. I even lived in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood for 7 months, and I picked up some Spanish that way. There was also an ill-fated trip to Mexico that ended rather earlier than planned. (Hint: At least be able to ask for directions or say “No comprende” if you decide to visit).

Then life took me back to the East Coast and since I had every intention of moving back to Southern California, when I had to choose a foreign language to study in college, I chose Spanish. I loved it and ended up taking a second semester of Spanish even though it wasn’t required.

After college, I occasionally checked some Spanish-language tapes out from the local library.

Now that I have returned to Southern California, native Spanish speakers are abundant. I work with two of them. Luckily one of my co-workers is a very patient teacher. Sometimes when I want to say something to him, I will look up a word or two in a Spanish-English dictionary or use Alta Vista’s Babelfish and then proudly approach him and say my sentence in Spanish.

Typically I’m met with a look of confusion and “¿Qué?”

I repeat myself, trying to be more careful about pronunciation. Then I get a furrowed brow, a shake of the head and “¿Qué?”

Finally, I say “Como se dice ‘Please move these boxes to the other room’?” (“Come se dice” means “How do you say…”)

“Ah,” says my co-worker. Then he tells me the correct way to say my sentence in Spanish, which is typically completely different than whatever mishmash I managed to put together on my own.

Once in awhile I get it right. Hopefully, some of this will actually stick in my head.

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