Friday, May 19, 2006

¿Tu hablas español?

(Note: If you have no interst in my troubles learning Spanish, please jump to the fifth paragraph, where the topic changes to ideas about immigration and education before you stop reading. Thanks.)

So... on a lighter note, it's setting in that the semester is, and has been, over. More so, as I sifted through mass of papers that clutter my room last night, sorting them into piles of lyrics, notes, drawings, math assignments and other collage papers... it is setting in that I AM DONE WITH SPANISH! After four classes I have completed my foreign language requirements for PVCC and should never have to take another language class again unless by choice. This... delights me. Learning Spanish was the hardest thing I have ever done academically. I went from straight A's to my first C and an additional three Bs. I have always been a difficult student, primarily because I like to learn things my way and on my watch. I was a very late reader as I've said before and really didn't get going at it until I taught myself. I'm not sure if I've ever been in a class I was so incompatible with. After 101, I'd much rather have learned sporadically. Give me light reading like poetry to translate, heavy conversations and every time I hit a bump, let me study it. I know that's not a practical way to learn, and I'm not suggesting the class be altered to accommodate it, but it is how I tend to learn. I jumping in and sorting out the mess gradually over time. Throw a bone now and then from someone who knows what they're doing, but basically leave me to my cave. I've also heard time and time again that the only way to learn how to speak Spanish for real is to go live somewhere where it is spoken for awhile. I believe it, and I think it would work well for even me with all my eccentricities.

When I was little, I had a mild speech impediment. It still lingers but is usually only detectable if I'm really tired or excited. Basically, my pronunciation gets all gummy. I recall being a pretty shy kid, but more so I was quiet because it took me forever to figure out how to say what I wanted to say to someone. I had a terrible time finding words and then once I had the sentence structure figured out, there was the insecurity that I'd pronounce it all wrong or not know what to say next. Taking Spanish 101 through 202 was like starting all over again. All of a sudden I didn't know how to word things or pronounce them. I felt like the class idiot for a lot of it. I hadn't taken Spanish in high school, and though this was the beginner's course, some of the students had FOUR YEARS under their belt. So it was frustratingly hard to keep up at times. Eventually, with personal dramas added to the mix, I kind of gave up on it and resulted in last year's C.

The fact that I'm horribly attention deficit doesn't help either. When you listening to someone lecture, because it's in your language, you don't have to fully listen to them. I'm not talking about daydreaming or anything disrespectful. What I mean is you can listen to them, and think, be it other things or simply what is being said. When you're as ADD as I am, you can easily entertain yourself for an hour looking at the patterns of vertically cut rings in a wooden table. Every movement in your peripheral vision is hard to ignore, and every conversation five tables back comes in loud and clear. That's all fine if the lecture is speaking your language. You can catch what you missed and generally understand without having to process every word. When the lecturer is speaking in a language you don't know well, you have to listen and process every word clearly and recall what it means and how it relates to the other words in the sentence. That takes a level of focus that is hard for me to keep up in a chatty classroom for an entire hour or even a half hour.

So it's no secret among friends that Spanish was hell for me. That said, I actually enjoyed many of the classes. My frustration is by no means a reflection on Professor Decker's skill as a teacher. He taught all four of the classes, and I highly recommend him to anyone taking Spanish at Piedmont. I particularly liked his linguistic insight, taking time to look at the roots of words and historical influences such as the Basque. I actually do intend to pursue Spanish further, but not through college. I'm going to take the gathered resources I've acquired and pursue reading so that I can tackle Spanish literature and film. During the first semester I was exposed to Julio Cortázar's work and would love very much to someday read Hopscotch in Spanish.

I must admit with the workload I had this winter semester, I've found myself in the dark on the heated immigration debates. Like Waldo, I don't feel informed enough to state any grand opinion on it all. However, as someone observing from afar, there are a few things that disturb me. One more than any other but the slave trade in America is the growing since of nativism in this country. A majority of my exposure to it has probably been from radio talk shows (which... from stuttering whiny hippies and backwoods Revelationsist, to the let god sort'em out right-wings and scripted wax-faced praise givers of the host... always draw out America's finest) but I have seen it elsewhere. The biggest issue of this nativism has been language. Time and time again I've heard bellyaching about the dreaded threat of the Spanish language and how if you're coming to this country you need to learn to speak American... uh... I mean English.

Now when the radical in me hears this, it wants to shout out, "Yeah? Well, can you speak Crow? How about Cherokee? Cause if there's one thing American history has shown, it's that it's ok to come here from afar and take over with complete disregard to those who lived here first." but I know that's not going to change anyone's views. It also implies a few things I'm really not for. But the thing I can't get my head around is, what's the big deal about having to learn Spanish? Sure, what's the big deal in learning English is a reasonable response. I'm not against immigrants learning the majority language of this country, but there is this - if not too strong a word - repulsion among some at the thought that in our lifetime, Spanish will become a second language in the United States of America. I simply cannot understand what the problem is with that. After all I've said about how hard it was for me, I still have to ask what is the big deal? What is so horrible about learning a second language for so many Americans? I'm not naive about the amount of time required, or the demands on many citizens with regard to raising children, maintaining income and other things. I'm not saying every citizen needs to drop everything and do this. Spanish is not going to become a second language tomorrow. It will definitely be in our lifetime, but that doesn't mean that it will affect all adults too drastically. This is a matter that will really concern the younger generations, the youth.

There are places in Africa where children speak five or six different languages. In some places Africans speak many more because of the close proximity of diverse tribes. At the very least, I believe we should strive to see it mandatory that children are taught Spanish; though I also believe they should learn French since the two would cover our primary border languages. It's common sense really. The people of any country ought to be able to speak the languages of those that at least directly surround it. Besides, there are benefits to learning other languages. I've learned more about the English language from studying Spanish than I have from all of high school. We simply do not teach grammar anymore, and even when it is taught, the necessity rarely sinks.

From my work in poetry and songwriting, I've come to take a deep interest in linguistics and words in gerneral. Rhetoric being a particularly interesting branch, you can find that language has many loopholes for deception, manipulation, and seduction. Anyone from a theologian to a Sorensen Institute graduate can attest to that. The mechanics of any one language are often too culturally specialized and as a result form perceptions and formulas of logic that can fail to accurately portray many variables of reality that may in fact not be irrelevant to a given situation. It's the hardest thing about politics for me. Though I know no better solution and am barely even able to define them abstractly, there are social, logical and... well... political structures that seem to inhibit what at times seems right. There is a game to it all, and the rules are flawed in a manner that human nature seems bent to corrupt, yet are too set to revise.

Looking at language, at times a single a word can be so abstract as to corrupt and overcomplicate what one would deem a simple matter. It may seem cliché, but take for example the immense complications that arrive from the obscurity of the word "love" in the English language. Who hasn't been in a relationship of some sort where that annoying four-letter word hasn't been a headache in regard to how it applies and what it means?

I'm not saying that learning Spanish and French will make all of these messes go away. For one thing, both being romantic languages, they'll offer little difference from one another. Taking on something like Japanese would probably be a real eye opener. That said, English is actually a pretty strange language. It's not very specific and apparently it's one of the more difficult to learn. So even though Spanish and French are similar in that they share many words and have others that sound very similar to their English counterparts, the structuring and approach to detail is quite different. So though you're not going to suddenly be enlightened, it is a very eye opening experience that can show you some potentials of language that could perhaps never be acquired any other way.



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