You know what’s awesome about social media (aside from the stalkers and crazies)? The nice people you can meet on it (and I have met some really genuinely nice people, and made friends who’ve gone from online to offline loves I know I will have in my life for a very long time). But also the interesting conversations you can have. I’ve had poetry written for me, to lift me up out of a sad valley. I’ve had men tell me I’m beautiful (some days, even a bad, angry, disillusioned feminist needs to hear “I think you’re so pretty”–seriously, gentlemen. It totally disarms us) (but I also think even the most liberated man sometimes needs to hear “you’re very handsome, and I will totally drink beers with you and try to understand you”). And then yesterday? I had this lovely conversation on Twitter about Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Spanish vs English. And this nice lady suggested I re-read novels by Garcia Marquez in Spanish to “hear” the language. (My other idea to improve my vocabulary and comprehension skills is to go live with a family in Mexico for a month. In the summer. In the Mexican Riviera. On a beach. With margaritas.)
I learned Spanish in high school. Because when I was in 7th and 8th grade, I was in love with Menudo. Specifically, Charlie Rivera Masso of Menudo. (Ricky Martin, he of Livin’ La Vida Loca fame, was in Menudo when I was in love with Charlie–Ricky, back in 1989 or so, was a skinny little squirt. Later, in 1995, I would completely fall in love with HIM, because Ricky turned into fine specimen of a man. Who loves other men, but who cares. Every girl needs a hot gay best friend. I say.) (I once flew to Los Angeles from Yuma, Arizona JUST to see Ricky Martin in concert. I met a girl–online, which seems to be my pattern, and I’m okay with it–who ran his fan club, and she got me backstage to meet him. But he’d already flown off to San Francisco for another concert, and so…dang. I’ve been searching for a hot gay best friend ever since.)
Where was I? Oh, right. Menudo, Spanish. So the point was–I needed to learn Spanish so I could marry Charlie Rivera Masso and live in Puerto Rico. I remember trying to do this on my own: listening to their records (I wish I could find my Menudo records–I think I threw the baby out with the bathwater when CDs came along…now, with streaming, I don’t even have CDs. But I do miss records)…checking out English/Spanish dictionaries from the public library…this was the pre-Internet age, so I had to really dig and research my Spanish words and phrases on my own, and there was no YouTube for people to help me know how to pronounce things. Kids these days. They don’t even know. Life and learning used to be WORK.
When I hit high school, of course I signed up for Spanish as my foreign language, even though at that point my fickle teenage self now loved Norwegian group a-ha. But my high school didn’t offer Norwegian as a foreign language, so I picked Spanish. My other choices were Latin (who talks that except the Pope?) and French (which I still would like to learn). That was it: Spanish, French, and Latin. This was Kentucky, and so I guess our world view was limited.
I loved Spanish. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Brown (who we called Sra. Pardo), and she let us all pick our own Spanish names. I don’t think Sra. Pardo ever even knew my real name after that–I was just Mariana (pronounced: MAH-dee-ahna). I soaked up Spanish like a little sponge, getting all straight As in it, and taking Advanced Spanish as a junior AND a senior, AND winning the Advanced Placement Spanish award two years in a row. I loved it THAT much.
The only problem: listening labs. We had one, but we didn’t use it much. The way I learned Spanish was basic conversations with Sra. Pardo, reading, and writing it. But we didn’t have a chance to really soak it up and listen to it. And today? I think this is why I am crap at comprehension in Spanish. Depending on how fast or slow someone speaks to me, I can usually make out 40-50% of what they’re saying to me. Reading it, I get the basic gist of what’s going on. But I can speak it like nobody’s business, because I’m a good mimic. Yet I’m still very certain that I sound, to native speakers, like Mikhail Baryshnikov did right after he defected to the U.S. (Now he speaks perfect English with a really lilting, attractive Russian accent.)
…off topic side note: Hey, do you guys know that if you learn a language after the age of 12 you will never ever lose your native language’s accent? You can get really really close to speaking like a native in your second language, but your original language’s accent will always be detectable. It’s why Henry Kissinger always had a German accent–he moved to America and learned English after age 12. Spoke perfect English, but with a thick German accent. It’s how your brain works. I wish public education understood this and started kids learning foreign languages in Kindergarten (hey, xenophobes, guess what? We actually do teach kids a foreign language in school–it’s called English as a Second or Other Language, and those kids are totally going to have a leg up over your English Only children because when they go to high school, not only will they speak perfect English as well as their native language, NOW they’re going to learn Chinese or French or German or Arabic. Learn foreign languages: your brain loves them.)
At any rate, I loved Spanish. And so when I went to college, I took lots of Spanish classes. I was always slightly annoyed with the native Spanish speakers who’d take these classes with me, because that never seemed fair. (But they were taking them because they only knew how to speak Spanish; they wanted to learn how to read and write it. Except for this one girl. I know she was totally in those classes to boost her GPA.) I ended up taking so many Spanish classes I had enough hours to make it my minor. So now I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education with a minor concentration in Spanish along with a certification in Social Studies. Which means I could teach Social Studies or Spanish to middle schoolers (except I’d rather stick a fork in my eye a thousand times than work with those hormonal squirrely kids–god bless you, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers).
But I am crap at listening comprehension skills. I moved to Yuma, Arizona out of college JUST to work on my comprehension skills in Spanish, I think. (And also because I developed romantic notions about living in the Sonoran Desert. Which is absolutely beautiful. Seriously. If you ever get a chance to hang out in the Sonoran Desert, please do. When I think of it, I think of browns and purples and ragged mountains and cacti everywhere. Just gorgeous. But living in it all the time is very different–only do that if you like no seasons, lots of sand, brown/barren landscapes, and 150 F degree summers. ALL THE TIME.)
Teaching and living in Yuma helped me with Spanish because it was everywhere. And so now I’m best at Spanglish and Mexican Spanish. I always know when I’m talking to someone from Mexico because I can actually understand them more. The school I worked in was 8 miles from Mexico (Baja California) and 3 miles from California. In the days before 9/11, we were able to park our cars in America and just walk across the border into Los Algodones, BC. No passport required, just an American driver’s license and the assumption you weren’t illegal because you spoke with an American accent. (It may have been more stringent than that, but that’s my memory of it.) Really, I don’t know why the Mexican government was not more suspicious of us…we could have just, like, gotten housing and lived there on the beach and stuff. (This is my dream, these days–move to Mexico and live on the beach, drinking margaritas and mojitos all day. Like Hemingway, but in Mexico.)
I think I had a point to this post, but now I can’t remember. So can I just wrap it up by telling you a Sra. Pardo story?
Sra. Pardo got to take a field trip to Spain when she graduated high school. She did a gap year and went to Spain. (Why do we not do the gap year thing, America? I totally needed a gap year.) One day, she went on an excursion that involved riding a bus with squeaky, unsure brakes up and down very very steep hills. Every time the bus driver would go down the hills, he’d slam on the gas and throw his head back, laughing like a maniac as loud as he could. She said it was terrifying. And then, when they’d get to little towns, he’d hang his arm out the window and every time a girl walked by, he’d go, “Hey, guapa. Hey, guapita!” (guapa = good looking.) Sra. Pardo thought it was because her bus was full of overprivileged American teenagers still in high school on chaperoned trips and they were very loud, obnoxious, and sneered in disgust at just about everything the Spanish did. Sra. Pardo advised us all to go to Spain but tell everybody we were from Canada.
If Donald Trump wins in November, lots of us may actually be able to say that truthfully. (I’m going to learn French so I can live in Quebec.)