“¿Qué piensa usted del evento en la página cuatro?”
I caught the last words, “page four,” and ruffled through La Opinión as I translated the rest in my head. There was a distinct pause as I flipped through the pages of my mental Spanish dictionary:
“Piensa” = “pensar” = to think.
She’s asking what we think about something on page four…
By the time I mastered that verbal trickery, the other students were already chatting in blurring machine gun staccato. I tried valiantly to translate every tenth or fifteenth word using my handy yet admittedly slim mental dictionary. DOS booting up in the early nineties was faster than my memory retrieval. This is how I discovered that nodding at certain intervals went a long way towards feigning participation.
Students for whom Spanish was a second language I could follow. The Brazilian girl with the hair that looked like a coppery waterfall enunciated clearly and took adequate time finding the proper verb tense. Spanish was her third language, English her second. As if I didn’t feel inferior enough.
Her and the second generation Mexican-American man who grew up speaking Spanglish at home used simple vocabulary and avoided complex expression. Them I could understand.
The remaining nine students all claimed Spanish as a mother tongue and spoke comfortably, La Profesora correcting their grammar occasionally with a gently added preposition or tweaked conjugation.
La Profesora never corrected my grammar. She could see me mentally straining for the correct word, not even bothering to conjugate it because that would take too fucking long. And definite articles? Forget it. I could make myself understood, but as far as sophisticated conversation was concerned, I was out.
This was my third attempt at Advanced Conversation, the final required course for my Minor in Spanish. Both of the prior times I ran from the classroom halfway through the first class, smiling embarrassedly at the teacher as if to say, “Oops! Wrong class.”
In between semesters and self-flagellating embarrassment I listened to Spanish talk radio, memorized flashcards of irregular verbs and honestly worked at understanding this not-so-difficult language. I got pretty adept at reading the language and pronunciation, but without Intermediate Conversation or a Spanish-speaking boyfriend to prod me along I was screwed.
Did I mention that my college didn’t offer Intermediate Conversation? Double screwed.
So there I was, throwing myself in the deep end like the brave token gringa I was. This time, however, would be different. I had a secret weapon hidden under the desk.
As La Profesora and the other native speakers bantered back and forth, I willed my brain to speed up, disregarding words that seemed superfluous and using my secret weapon for ones upon which the entire thrust of the conversation depended.
The tiny electronic pocket translator saved my life that day. For once, I felt like I was thinking in Spanish. The words came to me as if floating on tiny electronic clouds. I got an A+ in the class and moved to a Spanish villa on the Iberian coastline with my new lover Miguel.
Just kidding. That day, La Profesora asked me, in English, if I could talk after class. My face fell. I had never heard her speak English before. Apparently, I wasn’t fooling anybody.
That evening, as I dropped the class online, I realized I would have to start another minor all over again. Pinche pundeja.
Scrolling through the list of available classes, I resolved to pick something in which I knew I would excel. After all, a girl can only take so much failure. I mean, fracaso.
Seeing as I’ve been practicing linguistics again, I decided to revive this older post for the moonshine grid.