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I Failed Spanish in High School Over 50 Years Ago – Now I Have This Hunger to Learn the Language

I used to hate English classes in high school. I found that learning the meanings of things like prepositions and adjectives a total bore. I hated school in general and adding a Spanish language class to the mix made it just that more unbearable. I squeaked through the four years of schooling and punished myself even further by getting failing grades that required I repeat certain classes in summer school. Those classes always consisted of a language course.

I had no close Spanish friends at the time, and any Spanish people I did know spoke fluent English. I had no visions of ever traveling to a Spanish country, so what was the point of learning a foreign language? Throughout the following fifty years, I made lots of Spanish friends, made Spanish business contacts and ran into Spanish speaking people all the time. I had a half dozen Spanish buddies in my Marine barracks on Okinawa. There were five Mexicans and one Puerto Rican and each one was born somewhere on mainland, USA, but each spoke Spanish as a second language. I have Spanish friends who hail from Guatemala, I have been sponsoring two children in Guatemala every month for almost 20 years, I have a client from Peru, and so many service people, messengers, waiters, waitresses, and congregants I seem to come in contact with are native to a Spanish-speaking country. I even got into an automobile accident last year with, you guessed it, two guys from El Salvador. Then one day I read in the newspaper that Latinos are reported to be the largest minority population in this country.

When I re-roofed my house two summers ago through Home Depot, the entire crew was Spanish-speaking; only the crew chief was American born. The entire Empire crew who came to  Language of desire carpet my home last summer was Spanish-speaking, including the crew head, who spoke just enough English to get by. I was scarcely able to communicate my concerns and realized that whatever little bit of English they could speak was a far greater command of my language than I had of theirs.

The other day, I went to the service station to pick up my wife’s car and spoke to the Spanish-speaking attendant there about my desire to learn his language. He told me that he and a few of his friends, born and raised in Puerto Rico, have been in New York State for over twenty five years and still cannot truly speak English. He sure fooled me. At that precise moment in time, that split second, I had the epiphany. If I could speak Spanish as well as he spoke English, it would be right where I want to be.

That finally inspired me enough to take immediate action. I have a large vocabulary from my high school classes imbedded in my brain just waiting to be conjugated, I read signs and packaging all the time in a quest to learn new words and I have a real desire to have any kind of a prolonged conversation with people from the Spanish community in their native language. I don’t care if it’s broken Spanish, at least it’s Spanish and at least it’s a real conversation. I read recently that the brain is a remarkably plastic entity, quite capable of learning a second language at any age through a combination of listening and vocalization, and I intend to pursue it in that fashion.

In three months, my first Spanish language class at a local college begins, and I cannot wait. Maybe, if things go well, I’ll be able to write some columns in Spanish. Until then, I’ll just have to be content pretending to know Spanish by saying things like “tengo hambre” to my Spanish waitress in the diner or “Dos Equis” when I order my beer in the Mexican restaurant. Someday though, someone’s going to respond in Spanish and try to call my bluff. However, if I get serious about my Spanish studies pronto, maybe by that time my first real conversation with a real Spanish-speaking person will show them that I know what I’m talking about. Usted entiende?