26 November 2015

Why Spanish? A personal journey to connection


I believed myself an English teacher when I started.

I mean, I am an English teacher. I've got the degree, the certification, the occasional Creative Writing, Film and Lit, or SAT Prep class. I love the reading, the writing, and of course the discussion. But somehow that's not who I am anymore. Or at least not all I am.

I never intended to teach Spanish. In high school, I never even intended to take Spanish, opting for a few years of French and a couple of German. Mme. Aline, from whose name I took my daughter Lena's, told me I should teach French. "But I don't know how I learned it!" I protested (Mme. Aline was that good).

It was in college that I decided I needed Spanish to teach English. Parent conferences and phone calls home sans translator: that was my goal. Also, maybe Don Quixote in the original (spoiler: I resorted to Cliff's Notes--it was worse than Faulkner). So I did part of my student teaching abroad and got as close to a minor as I could with no high school experience.

Too bad the first parents I attempted to contact in Spanish handed the phone back to their son in danger of failing my Honors English 11 class. "Because your Spanish sucks," he told me.

Since then, I married (and divorced) a Mexican man, attended almost 100 worship services in Spanish, took some classes, got a Master's, and taught the stuff for nearly 10 years.

What a weird way to end up where I am.

But after all that? My original reason for learning Spanish is still probably the best I've had.

I wanted to connect.


The initial relief of discovering a common language and then a twenty-minute parent conference--seriously analyzing a student's strengths and weaknesses as well as joking and having fun: ALL IN SPANISH

Two-week trips to the Mayan Yucatan with my six-year-old and ex in-laws: ALL IN SPANISH

Inside jokes and extra insights from my native speakers from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia: ALL IN SPANISH

Birthday party invites and directions to the park, two-hour bus rides to the zoo on a school field trip with the moms of my son's school buddies: SPANISH

To say nothing of the movies, music, novels, poetry, picture books, coloring books, memes, and even tweets that are mine to enjoy on a daily basis. Not to mention the extra employability that pinch has come in handy more than once.

But what does this mean for my students? "Spanish teacher" isn't exactly on the list of backup plans for most of the kiddos at the early college and they may never meet a spouse on spring break in Puerto Vallarta.

For them, the question may not even be "Why Spanish?" It may be "Why learn a language at all?"


We have very few opportunities in life to start from nothing and watch ourselves grow continuously. Square one happened before we even knew we were learning math, science--our first language. And with a language, you don't have to go buy an instrument or art supplies or even books. You find a few words wherever you can, and you connect.

You look them up in a dictionary, online, pick them up from Dora or a patient friend at your part-time job. But you start off being able to measure your progress on one hand. And you can feel it. You can feel yourself absorbing more, stringing more words together.

You can feel it, and you can use it. And you can connect.

In North Carolina, you'll find the most opportunities in Spanish, but there are a few restaurants, a few shops around where you can seek out someone who speaks another language. But in this day and age, you could find your connections across an ocean with a click of a "Like" button.

Anyone can enjoy the simple connection of a greeting with a language--with minimal training!

Anyone can find cool pictures and perspectives on their hobby with a few weeks of exposure, and feel a little bit more connected with the global community that likes what you like.

After a little more connection, you can sing along with a pop song that pops up on commercials or keep up with a new TV show without subtitles to just be entertained a while and be a part of the group In The Know.

And who knows? If you keep connecting, you could make the right connections to find the solutions to problems, both personal and professional, because you can options you might not have found in one language.

And then? Then you can see--you can feel what you've accomplished. You know where you started, and you know the steps you took to get there.

And you'll know that you have no limits as long as you keep connecting.

Why Spanish?

I can keep growing my connections from where I am, in my classroom, in my community, and in the world. And it never has to stop.

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