For many years I believed that things like figure skating and gymnastics and dancing (ballroom and ballet on pointe) and speaking more than one language were all magic. I simply couldn’t imagine how it happened. At least not for normal people like me. I imagined that people who did those things had some special ability, a talent or superior intelligence. I still believe that some of them do, perhaps most. But. There is another possibility. Two words. Hard work. Lots of hard work.
I’ve already told you a little about my experience with the ballroom piece but I sometimes forget my other after fifty project. A few years after I started to dance, I decided to learn another language. For years I had moaned and groaned about how many of us who live in the United States never learn any language but English. Then we travel to other countries and get frustrated when they don’t understand us. Such arrogance.
Right. Fortunately, one day I realized I was part of the problem and either needed to shut up or do something about it. I could speak a few words of French–mostly the ones from Alouette and Sur le pont d’Avignon which I learned in the seventh grade. Oh yeah, and a few from The Singing Nun’s Dominique song. (If you remember her, bless you. If you don’t, it’s okay, you kind of had to be there.)
Anyway, I had taken French from third grade through my freshman year in college but always stumbled through verb conjugations (never learned to play the piano as well with my left hand as my right either) so I thought I should just pick up where I left off. Then I remembered I live in south Texas. According to Wikipedia (not always accurate I know), Houston is currently about 44% Hispanic. And I was going to take French?
You may be pleased to know that I decided to be practical this time (learning the Viennese Waltz in your fifties is NOT practical–fun yes, practical no). Didn’t seem like learning Spanish could be any more humiliating or difficult than learning Quickstep. Boy was I wrong. So very wrong. Pobre, pobrecita!
It’s been at least six years, maybe seven or more and I still can’t remember whether to use por or para, when to use the subjunctive, and whether the verb I need is estar or ser. There are dozens of other chronic problems but those three are particularly frustrating. Probably because at least one of them comes up about every three words.
The conversations I have with my teacher are a lot like my dance lessons. Lots of stopping and starting, hesitating and face-making (mostly I make the faces, but sometimes my teachers do and I can’t really blame them). It reminds me of trying to learn to drive a car with a standard transmission. RRRRRR, screech, rrrrrr, screech, rrrrrrrrrrsssss. In one case, you end up with steam coming out of the car. During dance and Spanish lessons, the steam is more likely to be coming out of my ears.