Reverb16: Skill

(For the past six years, I’ve used Reverb10 prompts to give myself a question to answer every day of December. It’s a great way to reflect on the year and set goals for the future. I’ve kept my favorite prompts, added a few from other sources, and created my own month-and- a-bit of questions.)

Skill. What skill would you like to cultivate – learn or refine – in the next year?

This year I decided I wanted to learn Spanish. This is one of the hardest, most foolhardy, and oddest quests I’ve ever embarked on. I’m mildly dyslexic, and did not take a language in high school. I took Latin, which you don’t speak. My one and only French class in college was a complete mistake. It’s kinda nuts that I’d want to do this at all.

This summer I was sitting in my office with a student, her mother, and our Dean of Students. I spoke only English and the student’s mother spoke only Spanish. Her daughter knew a lot of Spanish, but not the words related to financial aid, standardized testing, and college. (Just all the topics we were there to talk about.) The Dean had been a Spanish teacher. It took all four of us to have a conversation about this girl’s future. And it hit me. It should not be this hard. It was time to suck it up, stop relying on my privilege as the “nice white lady who is kinda trying” and actually learn the language.

I signed up with a language academy halfway between work and home. We meet once a week and we have homework. Yipes! I asked my students what I should be doing about flashcards, and they hooked me up with an app. I’ve got Spanish podcasts on my phone. I’ve started watching Destinos, a telenovela for language learners at the suggestion of the the super-sweet Spanish teachers at my school. They have suggested resources and I even have a few of the materials from Spanish 1 to supplement my classes. I also asked for a placement test for Spanish 2. That’s a worthy goal for next summer, to test into Spanish 2. Not Spanish Honors, which is also what the test evaluates. That would be a minor miracle, because …

It’s been 4 months, and it sucks. I regularly blank in class. I don’t practice, so my vocabulary is that of a toddler. The homework makes me want to cry. And yet, I just signed up for another 8 weeks of classes. I hear that the first 6 months of any language just stinks. You need to, as my students say “embrace the suck” and just ride it out. There will supposedly be a moment where things click. Right. 

This is pushing all my buttons. I am overly invested in my ideas about being smart, and a good student. And I am not good at this, and my homework is always riddled with errors. But, I’m not getting graded. There are no tests. The only test is my ability to have a stilted conversation with someone someday about helping their child go to college.

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