Friday, February 27, 2015

Una experiencia muy buena

I think it should be pretty obvious to anyone who's known me for more than, oh, 5 minutes or so, that I'm a totally geeky Lover of Languages. (Is there a word for that? Linguaphile? Did I just make that up? Hmm...and also, does that sound anyone else? Hold on just a moment--nope, I went and looked it up, and that is, in fact, the correct term. Still sounds illicit...oh well. Now where was I? Oh yeah: it all began in high school, when I crammed Spanish 1-4 and an Independent Study into my four years. (Yes, it did involve a miraculous bending of the space/time continuum...or perhaps it was me becoming buddies with la profesora, and being allowed to work ahead at my own pace...whatever...) By the time I graduated and went on to college, I was thoroughly enamored with being able to communicate in another I ended up taking enough electives to receive a Spanish minor along with my BA. (And also during my university tenure I picked up American Sign Language courses...because, you know...why not add another language...just for kicks?)

And then, all that good time academia and whatnot must inevitably come to a close, and they bounce you out into the Real World. English being my Mother Tongue (and stuff), I didn't have much of a chance to practice Espanol for several years, until I accepted a job in an elementary school that served a sizable percentage of Hispanic families. In this setting, I had some incredible opportunities--to participate in meetings that were conducted bilingually, and to interact with students, parents, and professionals in Spanish. However, when I left that position, I switched gears and began my next an ASL interpreter. As you can guess, there was not a whole lot of call for el idioma espanol in this milieu...oh, except for the couple of times I interpreted Spanish classes for Deaf students. (Nope, don't even try to figure that out...suffice it to say, Interpreter's Head: BOOM!)

That brings us up to the present, (I know: finally, right?) In the past few years, I've gotten to use Spanish on vacation a couple of times, so I know it's still (mostly) in there. But I can feel it slowly slipping away, and this upsets me. On the one hand, I've bought textbooks (I'm sure this one...) and tried completing written exercises, in an attempt to preserve at least some fluency. But that type of activity is, obviously, both boring...and contrived. Then when Derek began taking Spanish in 7th grade, at least I was able to help him study for tests, or answer homework questions. And that undoubtedly is satisfying and fun (again, for a language nerd, that is). But's not enough. Actually, for years I've been thinking I need to find some kind of conversation group, where one could go and chat with other Spanish speakers in an informal, non-stress setting (You know, no quizzes...or being rejected if you make mistakes...even totally stupid ones...)

So earlier this week, I went to the same website where I'd discovered the local fitness groups I recently joined, did a quick search, and turned up just that very thing...AND they have their get-togethers at the library 10 minutes from my house. Me parece que es el destino, no? I was immediately jubilant...and also not-just-a-tiny-bit...paralyzed with terror. I signed up for the first meeting--which was happening a few days later--and spent the next approximately-48-hours in a state of sky-high anxiety. What if I really couldn't express myself in Spanish anymore, enough to keep up my end of a conversation? What if I made an absolute fool of myself? What if no one liked me, and they politely asked me never to return?

To complicate matters, I started getting emails from one of the group's founders, about the topic they'd covered the previous week, something about the consequences of the U.S. lifting the trade embargo against Cuba, blah blah blah. What? I don't even like to talk about political or economic issues in English, much less try to formulate coherent thoughts in my rusty Spanish. Yikes! Meanwhile, the rational side of my brain fortunately kept reminding me that the club was probably comprised of lovely, welcoming people who would do their best to help out a newcomer with self-confidence issues....and in this manner the day arrived at last.

And yes, it was utterly nervewracking to walk into a room full of strangers and try to maintain a social exchange in not-my-native-tongue. But it was also AWESOME to listen to those members--from a variety of Hispanic countries--who fluently, lyrically speak the gorgeous Spanish language. Also allaying my fears: there were other Americans, of varying skill levels. I strove to sit there quietly and unobtrusively, but it was unavoidable that--in a room with only 5 people--someone would ask me a question. As expected, my first nervous attempts to spit out complete sentences were...fumbling...and rife with errors. However, no one laughed...or ordered me to leave. (They offered gentle corrections, instead. Whew!) But I really knew I'd be fine when, a few minutes into the discussion, one of the moderators told a joke (a linguistic-based one, at that) and I GOT IT. I was ridiculously pleased...and relieved. After a while, this same lady offered to take whoever was interested off into a separate group, to do a (wait for it) grammar practice sheet! Yay!!! (I know, I know...)

Of course I joined this little band of rebels--um "scholars"--and we promptly got to work on the proper uses of ser and estar, haber and tener. (You'll just have to trust me--it was both informative...and enjoyable....) The best part--for me, anyway--was when there would be a question about why a certain answer was the right choice in a given situation. Now, our fearless leader is a bilingual native Puerto Rican. So of course she learned her Spanish the natural way. On the other hand, as a second-language learner, I spent countless hours in lectures, being instructed on the intricacies of grammar and usage. What I'm getting at is: I had to demonstrate understanding of the rules, in order to succeed at mastering the language....and receiving passing grades. (Yeah, yeah...and I love grammar, so sue me....)

Anyway, I saw our leader struggling to explain the reasons behind particular structures, while in my head a little voice was saying "it's a helping verb...verbo ayudante". I didn't want to be rude or pushy...but finally I just--respectfully...almost apologetically--interjected what I was thinking. She turned to me, let out a huge sigh of released tension, and said, "Gracias!" Since she hadn't seemed to mind my interference, I felt comfortable speaking up after that when I happened to know the grammatical rule that should be applied. After a while, she firmly stated, "You must come every week so you can do this!" Hmmm, let me see...Not. A. Problem.

So let's sum up, shall we? This whole Spanish Conversation Club was entertaining...and educational... now can I adopt the title of Grammar 2 language? (Bonus!)

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