Saturday, July 26, 2008


I studied Spanish for five years when I was in school.  When I started at CSH in fourth grade, everyone had to take French; it had been founded by an American French order, after all.  I hated French and often "got a stomach ache" during the 45 minutes that happened to coincide with French class.  When seventh grade started, a teacher who could teach both French and Spanish had been hired, and I figured that Spanish had to be easier than French, so I left the latter for the former.  Then the high school I attended required three years of a foreign language and again the choice was between French or Spanish, so I enrolled in Spanish 2 as a sophomore.

Never let it be said I was a good Spanish student.  Social studies/civics and English were my strongest subjects; Spanish and algebra/geometry/trigonometry were my weakest.  Many a report-card bawling out was due to the Cs I got in Spanish.   This was because I really didn't care about studying and found memorization boring, so my vocabulary was pretty poor though my grammar was all right.  In fact, the year my Spanish was the best was the year during which I was kind of dating a boy from Mexico - we, like a lot of teenagers, spoke Spanglish, a language of Spanish grammar and Spanish-ized vocabulary.

In tenth grade my teacher was Sra. Baumgartner and that year was full of conjugations in all tenses.  I actually got a B on the final because I made myself memorize all the tenses the night before the exam.  That was the highest grade ever I got on a Spanish test.   For eleventh and twelfth grade my Spanish teacher was Sr. Crossley, who was famous for being both the meanest teacher and the hardest grader in school.  He was a hard teacher, but a good one:  When I was in Spanish 4 as a junior he was also teaching Spanish 5 and 6 in the same classroom. There were a lot of students in the class who spoke Spanish at home, and while my assignment might be to write a paragraph about the reading (my introduction to Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges!) they had to write two pages.  He only spoke in Spanish during class and insisted everyone else did too.  I graduated with a C- in Spanish and haven't studied it since.

Now I speak Spanish at work at least once a week.  There aren't very many volunteers who are fluent in Spanish but we have a lot of clients who are fluent in Spanish and not in English.  Because my Spanish, poor as it is, is better than the Food Bank Director's, I usually volunteer to counsel new clients.   I wonder what my Spanish actually sounds like to a fluent speaker; I always start off with "I speak Spanish, but my Spanish isn't very good."  The other day I spent thirty minutes completing a client's intake and describing all of our programs to her.

I'm always proud of myself for being able to communicate with these clients, because of all those Cs I got in school.  But I'm more thankful to Sr. Crossley for being such a tough teacher when I had him in high school; I think it's because of him that I remember as much as I do.

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