One of the things I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time is to learn Spanish. I live in California, for cryin’ out loud where approximately 25% of the population (and growing) speaks Spanish. The names of our major cities – San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento – are all of Spanish origin. The legacy of once being part of Mexico runs deep in our state. So, really, unless you want to cut yourself off from a large part of our population and our past, it’s silly not to speak at least a bit of Spanish.
Sure, I took Spanish in junior high many many many many (OK, we get the point, you’re old) years ago. I think that was the only language offered in junior high. Once I hit high school, I started taking French. It felt so much more sophisticated and well, foreign. Besides, the Spanish classes were filled with kids from Spanish speaking households who were taking Spanish for an easy A. In French class we could pretend we sounded good. You couldn’t get away with that in Spanish.
I continued taking French in college. And while I was never pretentious enough to wear a beret, I did enjoy getting drunk, smoking Gauloises and speaking slurred French (which actually helped my accent). And then because my major required two foreign languages, I started to take Italian. Why Italian and not Spanish? Why not use my language requirement to learn a language I might actually use? Because, my friends, my goal was not to actually speak a foreign language, but to watch foreign films without having to depend on the subtitles. Spain and Latin America, at the time, were not doing anything of note film-wise, so I opted for Italian. Yeah. Feel free to chuckle. I was a pompous ass, I admit it.
Now, many years later, I’m a bit more practical and far less pretentious. I’m taking beginning Spanish at the local Adult School. My classmate’s incentives to learn Spanish range from “I work in a restaurant and I need to be able to talk to the kitchen staff” to “my grandchild is being brought up bi-lingually and I want to be able to support that” to “I work in construction” to my unspoken reason “I don’t want to get stuck with any more rabbits due to a language barrier.”
Our teacher runs a language school of her own, and frankly I think she does the Adult School gig to promote her own school programs and to sell her workbooks and CDs. As this was Adult School Spanish, I was expecting perhaps a bit more emphasis on the practical and the conversational. You know, like those tapes you buy to learn a bit of traveler’s Spanish before you go on a trip? Yo quiero una cervasa, por favor. Quanto cuesta? Donde esta el bano? But, noooooooooo. Not Miss Oliviera. She’s doin’ it old school. Which, for me, has been quite frustrating. Here it is Week 7 out of 8 , and we only just learned a couple of verbs. Granted the verbs “to be” and “to have” are biggies, but we could have done so much more if she hadn’t focused half the class on counting. Yes, we all all very very adept at counting. Oh, and telling time. And even with numbers, she’s rollin’ old school.
One of my classmate, Miquel (aka Michael) a construction contractor, questioned Miss Oliviera when she was tell us how to say phone numbers. So, let’s say the phone number is 848-2452. Miss Oliviera says in Spanish rather than saying each number individually, they would say 8-48-24-52. Miquel said, “gee, I’ve never heard my crew say it like that – they say it like we do, one number at a time.” “Well, they are wrong. This is the proper way to do it”, said Miss Oliviera with a bit of a sneer.
When we were learning to tell time, another classmate had the audacity to question the teacher. In English, if the time is, say, 3:42, we simply say “3:42” Miss Oliviera says in Spanish they would say “4 hours minus 18”. When the classmate mentioned her Spanish speaking family didn’t say it like that, again Miss Oliveira snapped “that is not proper! I am teaching you the proper way. If later you choose to not say it correctly that is your choice.”
There’s an attractive young couple in our class who are planning on doing some traveling to Latin America. In fact, I think Miss Oliviera has a bit of a crush on the man because when we started to learn adjectives, she was always using Roberto (aka Bob) as her example. “Roberto es muy guapo y alto” (Bob is very handsome and tall). Roberto, taking advantage of his teacher’s pet status asked if we could learn some useful phrases to use when traveling. From the way Miss Oliviera responded you would have thought he wanted to know how to say “Excuse me sir, which way to the the donkey show?” “I don’t teach phrases” she spit out with disdain. “It takes years to learn to speak a language properly, but it is well worth it.”
She may have a point. Learning the Spanish the Adult School way with Miss Oliviera may take years. I may have to find a quicker path before Maria presents me with another rabbit.