I took Spanish in high school because I had to. Alternatively, I could have chosen French or German but I figured Spanish would be much more useful in my day-to-day world. I’ve never had a good ear for languages or accents, but, after three years of struggling, I ended up with a moderate grasp of conversational Spanish.
The problem with trying to learn anything only because it’s required is that, once the lessons are over, the motivation (in this case, a good grade) is gone and whatever knowledge managed to penetrate my cranium starts to fade away. Lessons learned in subjects I loved – English, social studies, history, art – are still with me for the most part. Algebra, chemistry, and Spanish… not so much.
I actually know a number of Spanish words and I can even put together a few complete sentences. But, since I live in a border city, I probably would have risen to this barely-literate level even without taking classes in high school. I’m fairly confident that the few swear words I have in my meager Spanish vocabulary weren’t taught to me in school, but instead from several helpful kitchen crews I worked with as I waitressed my way through college.
I have often regretted not building on my Spanish skills since I graduated from high school. I have had many co-workers and friends who were fluent speakers and I know they would have been happy to let me practice on them. A lot of my reluctance has been my insecurity with my accent and, frankly, not wanting to look – or sound – silly. Since most native Spanish speakers I interact with are also fluent in English, I’ve taken the lazy person’s way out and opted to converse in the language that is most comfortable for me.
On my long list of want-to-dos in retirement (or jubilación in Spanish – isn’t that a great word? It sounds like jubilation) is to take classes in subjects of interest to me. I’ve already taken several photography and photo editing classes and I’ve signed up for a few lectures on interesting topics. Between our local community college’s continuing education offerings, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute classes, and our local Oasis Institute, I could happily become a full-time student again.
Most recently, my husband and I have started taking a class in beginning Spanish. Not only do we want to better understand and converse in a language we hear just about every day, we are contemplating arranging for an extended stay in Oaxaca, Mexico. Although we hope to take Spanish classes while we are there (in addition to cooking and art classes), we want to have at least some of the basics under our belts before we arrive. Right now, we could successfully ask where the bathroom (baño) is and order a beer (cerveza) – obviously both very important – but we would have trouble with anything more complicated.
So far, the class is very different from my high school experience. The teacher is fun and not at all intimidating, my fellow students are older and grayer, and the text book contains words and phrases that one might actually hear in the real world. The biggest difference is that we are there because we want to be. The only requirements are the ones we put on ourselves: listen, participate, practice, do our homework, and, most of all, enjoy the process of learning a new skill.