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My Spanish es Muy Malo November 9, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Language, Teaching.
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I blame Senorita Cuadrado.  She was the fiery dyed redhead from Cuba who was hired to teach Spanish at my middle school.  How she ended up in Omaha, Nebraska, I’ll never know.  This was post Cuban Missile Crisis and I believe it’s possible Senorita Cuadrado’s mercurial temper had something to do with THAT international incident.  What I do remember is one day she poured glue in a boy’s hair, then threw his books out the second story window. 

So Is it any wonder that when I got to high school, I opted to study French? Of course, once we moved into conjugating verbs, my love for French was finis.  Fast forward two decades to New York City.  I’m riding on the subway when I realize I can actually read the ad in Spanish for Preparation H. Okay, I admit that “preparacion para los problemas con hemorroides,” is a no-brainer, but it made me wonder.  Could I have possibly retained some Spanish?    

Two trips to Mexico later, I’d still only managed to add Cuanto questa? (How much does it cost?) and hormigas (ants) to my vocabulario.  And how many times can you slip hormigas into casual conversation?

When I applied for a teaching job in 1997 with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the principal asked if I spoke Spanish.  I took a deep breath and said, “La pluma esta encima de la mesa”  (the pen is on top of the table) and was hired on the spot.  It also helped that I had a pulse (class size reduction had just gone into effect and any warm body would do).  I taught a second grade Modified Bilingual class of 20 students, only three whom were native English speakers.  My Spanish-speaking aide, who was supposed to work with the 17 Spanish speakers, was a chronic no-show so I was teaching a solas.

My godsend was a new student from Mexico City.  Anna Lucia Gonzales was a fluent reader in Spanish, who didn’t hesitate to correct me whenever I made a mistake.  Never mind that she was six years old and only came up to my waist.  I called her  “La Pequena Maestra” (The Little Teacher) and we taught each other.  She learned faster than I did, so I was the one who enthusiastically told parents, “Me gusta cerveza!” (I like beer), when what I meant to say was, “Me gusta cerezas!” (I like cherries).

My Spanish is still muy limitado.  I like to tell my Spanish-speaking students they better behave because if I have to call home, all I know how to say is, “Su hija/o es un diablita/o!” (Your child is a little devil).  This works every time.

For the second year now,  I have a cluster of Korean English Language Learners along with my Spanish speakers.  My Berlitz English/Korean dictionary arrived from Amazon yesterday and I’m wildly excited.  Oh boy, another language I can butcher!  But isn’t it really the thought that counts? Hey, I just found out “thought” is sago in Korean (or maybe it’s saenggak).  I feel smarter already! 

And what about Senorita Cuadrado?  I pictured her in charge at Gitmo, so I was shocked when my mother told me she’d recently run into her and she still teaches!  My mother mentioned my name Senorita Cuadrado (who’s now a Sra.) swore she remembered me.  My mother told her how I’d become a teacher and now wished I was bilingual in Spanish.  She said Senorita Cuadrado didn’t miss a beat before snapping back, “That’s what they all say.” My Spanish is still muy malo.  I blame Senorita Cuadrado.