Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Old Age Learning

My high school French teacher was crazy. At some point, he gave up trying to teach us how to conjugate verbs and focused his energies on training us to sing in French and Latin. He claimed to have been a trained opera singer but considering the number of things he claimed to be, we were skeptical (he was crazy remember?). Needless to say my grasp of French was weak at best. I tried. I loved translating poems but it involved a lot of dictionary use. I felt unable to memorize vocabulary. And speaking French was out of the question. My inability to speak English well eroded my confidence. Plus we were too busy singing.

Flash forward to college. I'm dating someone who is obsessed with China. I mean, obsessed. He talks me into studying Chinese as my language. This may be the stupidest thing I've ever done. A, it's really hard. B, it's not the language that will get me into graduate school for English or for American Religion. C, the boyfriend dumps me and marries our teacher (not joking), and D, I end up marrying the hot exchange student from Mexico and reproduced many little beasties with him.

Now here I am still not knowing Spanish even though we've been married for almost 11 years, and I kind of lived in Mexico for awhile. Why? Well I suspect my in-laws ask that often. I'm sure my friends do as well. And oh yes, my professors who often ask me for Spanish pronunciation. It is a huge embarrassment to me. But my fear outweighs that embarrassment. I am so scared of failing. So scared that I just kept saying I was going to learn Spanish and then never did anything about it.

This came crashing in on me while I was filling out applications to Ph.D programs. One programs basically said they are not going to take you if you don't have the prerequisite two languages. I felt pretty down about it. I even cried a bit. But mostly I sat on the couch and whined about why I can't learn languages. H, that hot Mexican exchange student, essentially shot down all my reasons. At the time, it was super annoying and I kind of said mean things to him so he would leave me a lone to sulk.

And later, after everyone was sleeping, I thought about this whole language thing. I was angry over some comments that had been made when I foolishly whined on Facebook. I suspect the poster thought I was being "that American", you know the one who says dumb things like "You better speak American here." It was insulting to be lumped into that category when that wasn't the issue at all. What bugged me was that this poster had no idea how hard foreign languages can be for someone like me. I didn't even take  a language until high school as the American public school system doesn't feel the need to teach us foreign languages until then. Yeah private schools do it earlier but hell there was no way we could have afforded that kind of education. When I decided to major in the academy, no one sat with me and said "Chinese. No. Not unless you plan on studying something that has to do with China." I had no clue what it meant to major in the academy and certainly no idea of what I had to do to prepare myself for that life.

But really there's nothing I can do about those things. And I realize as I sat on the couch that I don't know if  I suck at languages because really I've never tried. I never had the opportunity to apply myself. More importantly, my beasties had sat there while I cried about what I perceived as my inability, my stupidity. I keep telling them that they can learn anything they apply themselves too. We home school because we believe that learning should be self-motivated and self-driven. We believe that with effort we can learn what we desire to know. In the course of about ten minutes I had shown my beasties that I didn't truly believe those things when they pertained to me.

Tonight I sat down with H's Spanish book, and began at chapter 1. It wasn't so bad. The beasties helped me. We serenaded their daddy to sleep with our Spanish.


Greywillow said...

I often kick myself for not really learning another language. I want to take some Spanish classes but feel overwhelmed with what is already on my plate. Kudos to you for picking up the book & at least you have a live in "hot" intstructor. ;-)

Erica said...

You can do it, Ginger! You can learn a foreign language.

I think it would be better if you can do it with someone else. I mean, that you are not just studying by yourselg. Can you go to a class? Can you audit a class in the university you're teaching at?

Another option could be to learn it at home with your kids. Do they speak Spanish? Does H speak Spanish to them? What about having a Spanish class at home? Maybe they can teach you and their baby sister R at the same time. Maybe you can have a reading time in Spanish as part of your homeschooling program, only this time your part of the class :)

Good luck!