There I sat, my stomach doing flip flops, waiting, barely breathing, as the graded papers were passed back to the class. I already knew I hadn't done well. I knew that, despite having nearly four years of high school Spanish education, the extent of my conversational skills was limited to what I had learned the very first day of my freshman year:
"Hola. ¿Cómo está Usted?"
"Muy bien, gracias. ¿Y Usted?" **
Somehow or other, I managed to make it through the previous three years worth of teacher reporting with adequate C's. But Year Four was different. Year Four thought that I actually DESERVED my three years of C's, had retained the vocabulary encased in the three textbooks prior, had dutifully practiced the conjugation of verbs. Year Four expected the ability to actually converse.
In ACTUAL Español.
Oh, holy hell, I'm getting a rash just thinking about it.
I truly did have a desire to learn Spanish. My mother's parents being from Mexico and native speakers, I had always wanted to be able to watch a telenovela with my grandmother and actually understand all the weeping women and murderous men without asking her to translate. It's in my genes, I thought as I signed up for the first class my freshman year, how hard could it be?
As it turns out, (and my report card served as a painful reflection of), there is no such thing as a genetic predisposition to language. At least not inside my brain.
And so I sat, waiting, wondering, hoping that I had passed this last test of the year. The last test of my whole High School Career. The teacher handed out the papers, then stopped by my desk to tell me she wanted to see me after class.
After the room drained of students, the teacher came to my desk. I have no recollection of her name, but I can still see her right in front of me, plain as day, an older woman with wire-rimmed glasses and short, light-brown hair that curled away from her face.
"I'm sorry," she told me, "but I lost your test."
"I lost your test, and since this is the last one, I will give you the grade your received on the last test."
How does a teacher lose a test?
"You have a D."
"Really?" I finally replied, brightening up. "Well, sure, that's alright. OK, thanks!"
I ran out of the room with my overstuffed back-pack, overwhelmed at my good fortune, and promptly put the whole thing out of my mind.
It was years (I mean, seriously, YEARS) later before it dawned on me what I am sure all of you have already figured out.
That test was never "lost." It was mercifully misplaced, taken out of its misery, by a wise teacher who knew subjecting me to summer school my graduating year was not going to do much for anyone, least of all the Spanish language.
I was, after all, a lost cause. (And genuinely that naive. I still am, sometimes!)
But this Lost Cause had to suffer through two more college semesters of conjugating and translating. And what did I have to show for it?
"Hola. ¿Cómo está Usted?"
In the many years since earning my college credits in a less-than-stellar display of language butchery, the desire to learn this language had remained. I purchased textbooks and had Hubby gift me with the whole set of Pimsleur Audio Lessons for a long-ago birthday. And I learned one, very important, thing.
Your brain does not instantly absorb knowledge just by the simple purchase of learning materials. Turns out, you have to actually do something with them!
I got the farthest with the Pimsleur Audio, at one point making it all the way to Lección 21 of Unit 1. (There are three units, by the way, with 30 lessons in each. I did not make it far!)
I think my biggest resistance to studying this language has been an unnerving feeling of being a fraud, a phoney (a POSER, if we want to go all Middle-School with it!) Who did I think I was to pretend like I could talk this way? And is this how REAL people even talk, anyway? This is where my perfectionist Virgo tendencies come blaring loud and clear -- I don't want to practice something in front of others unless I know it perfectly first.
Kind of a stupid mentality when you are attempting to learn a whole new language, isn't it? Of course, a reasonable person would understand that nobody expects anyone to learn a whole language instantaneously, and that most native speakers would appreciate the attempt at learning, would even be kind enough to help.
But Virgo minds are pretty unreasonable when it comes to feelings of inadequacy. And in the Spanish Speaking World, I felt extremely inadequate.
So as we walked off the plane, that first day in Honduras, and made our way through customs, retrieving the family pet from the Office of Something-Or-Another (I dunno, it was in Spanish), and then finally landing in our hotel room, there was really only one thing that suprised me about our newly adopted country.
It wasn't the landscape.
It wasn't the architecture.
It wasn't the crazy driving.
It is the fact that almost NO ONE in this enormous, metropolitan city speaks ENGLISH! Not even the employees in our hotel rountinely chock-full of fellow American Embassy peeps!
I would hardly consider myself a "world traveler," but Hubs and I have managed to make it to Italy and France. And in my limited exposure to the world, I had found that, in the major cities, it was not too hard to find folks who could speak English. I had assumed that the CAPITAL CITY of Honduras - Tegucigalpa - would have SOME English-speakers, especially in the hotels, airports and popular restaurants.
Wrong, wrong, WRONG!
You only have English-speaking people in areas that English-speaking people like to travel and (more importantly) spend money. There are no English-speakers traveling here, except us! Well, and some missionaries from US Churches, but they don't have any money to spend!!!
Is it the Universe fulfilling a long-ago dream to finally become fluent in this beautiful language that brought us here? Or a curse set about by all the disgruntled Spanish teachers of my past (especially the one in whose class I would fall asleep during college.....whoops!) I prefer to think it is the former, rather than the later. Either way, be sure to check in...well... in a day or three, for Part Two of Adventures In Español!!!
** Let it be known that I spent a considerable amount of time figuring out how to make my computer do those fancy ñ and ó and ¿ symbols. I would like to pretend that it would be a difficult thing for anybody to do, but, now that you know my history with Español, I doubt you would believe me. Still, I did it! All by myself!!! (Along with several Google searches and a YouTube video, but it was all me!)