When the End is in Sight

Mar 10th 2010: Travel

(continuation of Spanglish Matters)

The concept of “sink or swim” is fundamentally flawed. Suitable only for the kindergarten pool session it forces a harsh decision on the delicate shades of gray which make life so much more interesting. Would you like your steak plain raw or thoroughly through? 120-hour work week or unemployed? Binges or abstinence? Black or yellow? In the end we tend to grab for that big straw that allows us to breath and float underneath the surface without being dragged to the bottom.

By spending several hours a day on top of the regular Spanish classes on homework and brute force flash card memorization of the vocabulary of a three year old, I managed to significantly move up in the world. No longer am I the sad owner of the title of the worst student in class by far! but I am now proud to call myself one of the worst students in class. A hard earned honor. Blessed with the rather useless gift of being able to often finish grammar exercises faster than anyone else, faster even than the 15 year old, trilingual wiz kid, I am still left stammering when trying to explain how I spent the previous afternoon – a painful ritual at the beginning of every class. It is especially tragic since, unlike my peers who have spent their afternoons doing exciting touristy things (and are able to convey them), I spend my time the same way every day: first a two hour private class, then an hour commute home in an overly crowded, and I am talking nasty sweaty skin-on-skin crowded, hot and moist subway car. I then relax a little, go out for a longer dinner, the most exciting part of my day, after which I spend the rest of the cozy evening with my new friends, the indirect objects and the reflexive verbs. We really have a grand time together.
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Spanglish Matters

Mar 1st 2010: Travel

Having just sat through the first four hours of my Spanish class I realized how profoundly happy I had been with my good-for-almost-nothing language skills. After taking two placement tests (I had aced the first one. Sorta.) I ended up in the fourth level class. I felt great hoping there would only be five levels or so and that I was close to mastering the language, being able to join the political discussions at the next table, and to be able to laugh and cry while following the dramatic unfolding of events in Schwartzenegger’s masterpiece: Daño Colateral.

In a cruel twist of fate, however, there turn out to be about fourteen levels. Worse yet, in a class of seven I am definitely at the bottom of the language pit. And it’s dark down here. My saving grace, which had landed me in this level in the first place, is my excellent sense of grammar. As my parents had promised, those seven years of Latin I had sweated through (literally) in middle school and that I had (successfully) worked hard on forgetting using the ancient technique of killing brain cell by brain cell using nothing but college grade beer, finally started coming in handy. Turns out a neuron or two had survived the torterous treatment and they, even though I would not have held it against them if they hadn’t, overcame their mutual hate for me and helped out.

However, even though it might sound exciting to be able to recognize gramatical patterns based on previous life, out-of-body like experiences, it quickly became painfully obvious that my complete lack of vocabulary made me the worst student in the class. By far. The last time I felt this uncomfortable in a class was when I was 12 and thought that my poor drumming skills would allow me to play in a jazz band and signed up for a jazz elective. Fortunately for everyone involved, there was a guy who actually knew how to play and I spent my semester reading in a corner while the class rehearsed. But no such luck today. I actually have to answer questions. Which assumes I understood what was being asked. As my friends and relatives can attest, there is no salvation in sight neither: the drowning of the memory section of my brain was quite complete.

As I face the remaining 56 hours with a sense of imminent doom, I brace myself, hope for the school to burn down (a snow day would do too), and decide to swallow the bitter pill (and my pride while I’m at it) and am signing up for the beginner vocabulary club.