If you were to tell my little 4th grade elementary school self that I would be able to learn a new language, then the response you would receive would be “No way. Me? You must be lying.” My attitude towards the language was not welcoming and I considered myself to be a close minded person during that time. The Spanish language was something new to me and I didn’t even know of its existence until the 4th grade. My beginning of this learning journey was a rough start and I hated it but eventually turned for the better later on. From there, I was introduced to a new world and a new culture which later in life I luckily came to appreciate. I slowly started warming up to learning the language and because of this, I pushed myself and became more confident speaking the language in the process.
When I was a child, the idea of reading, writing, and art were always a fun pastime for me. I was a bit on the shy and quiet side and I had a bit of social anxiety, so I always turned to these activities to deal with these problems. When I was usually bored out of my freaking mind, wandering around aimlessly with nothing to preoccupy my thoughts, I always picked up books or manga to read to myself. I was especially into the book series ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events’ and would spend countless hours with my eyes glued to each page. One would think that my interest for books would translate positively into having a blast reading and learning another language. At that age, learning the Spanish language was anything but that. It wasn’t something that I went out of my way to learn. Rather, my school made it a requirement and basically shoved it down my throat which made for an unpleasant first experience.
My first Spanish class began in my 4th grade classroom where my homeroom teacher introduced a lady who will be teaching us the language for about a month and a half. She was a strange and mean person to say the least. Honestly, I don’t even remember her name. I know it’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t recall even a single letter from her name. Oh well, I’ll just refer to her as Señorita. However, I do remember that she was kind of weird both in appearance and personality. To start off, she didn’t really speak English that fluently so I was super confused since she couldn’t explain the lesson thoroughly. She had her colored blonde hair cut in the style of an uneven pixie cut and these long, dark and overdrawn sharpie eyebrows that added to her intimidating and overbearing attitude. There was one instance where a girl in my class (I’ll call her Sue) politely asked Señorita if she can use the restroom. Señorita hated students leaving the classroom while she was teaching and she immediately replied, “No. Stay,” in a domineering manner. Sue continued pleading with her but her words were ignored and by the end of class, there was a huge puddle on her seat. A “What’s wrong with you?” escaped from Señorita’s mouth.
A month and a half felt so long and I just kept thinking to myself, “When is this gonna be over?” Perhaps Señorita was to blame for my hatred for learning the language or I just wasn’t put much effort into learning it. My lack of interest really showed in my grades because I almost always received a “C” or lower on tests. All my other grades in other subjects were “A’s” and my parents showed extreme disappointment when they saw my Spanish marks. It didn’t affect me much so I pretended the grade wasn’t even there. There’s no point in worrying about Spanish because I’m not going to have to see it again, right? And I was so wrong thinking like that.
In my middle school days, Spanish came back to me as a punishment for how I treated it in elementary school. I apprehensively walked into this class and was greeted warmly by the teacher who was male and Jewish, which I found quite interesting. Again, I’m bad with names so I don’t remember his name (sorry). But I wish I did because surprisingly, I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. This teacher was so friendly and was a native English speaker so understanding the concepts was a much easier task and I managed to receive a “B” as my final grade. Despite doing decently in the class, I still didn’t feel all that interested in developing better Spanish skills. I was just like, “Oh whatever. I just need to do this because it’s part of the stupid school’s curriculum and not something I actually need in my life.” High school came around the corner and served as an important stepping stone in acquiring an interest in Spanish. Of course, Spanish was a graduation requirement so I might as well put as much work as I can to improve. Putting myself back in the shoes of my 9th grade self, never would I have thought that my Spanish education would run for 4 years.
In my first year of high school, I worked extremely hard and it paid off because I finally got an “A” in the language. I was filled with happiness because I finally succeeded in getting that grade I longed for in a language I struggled learning. It was almost like being stuck in a maze for ages and not having a single damn clue on where to start and go. But through sheer determination, I finally reached the exit. As I left that maze, my appreciation for the language continued to grow and I decided to take Spanish again. I had the same Spanish teacher for the next three years and she was such an amazing teacher. Her name was Mrs. Santiago-Peters and she was the kind of teacher that would really try to get everyone engaged in every lesson and took time out of her day to help anyone who was struggling to grasp a concept. She made the environment comfortable and coming to her class every morning put a smile on my face. My 4th year of taking Spanish was quite a challenge because it required more skill and applying what you learned in past years. I had to be able to read short novels, write short essays, and speak and hear Spanish. It was overwhelming at first, but without encouragement from Mrs. Santiago-Peters, I doubt I would have been able to survive it all. She was always there for me when I lacked confidence in myself and pushed me to improve.
Over summer after my high school graduation, I did a lot to keep myself busy by setting a schedule to study Spanish through different mediums. I worked on improving my hearing skills first so I watched several Spanish TV shows made for little kids because of the simple nature of the grammar. It was a good start in order to know the basics. Then I moved to watching movies I’m familiar with in English that had Spanish subtitles and watched telenovelas with English subtitles. Through this, I was able to gain a better sense of the language and picked up on words much faster than I did before. I also learned some occasional curse words here and there. Other activities I did included reading some simple short stories online and practicing my writing skills. I definitely felt that I did something useful with my time because now I feel more confident when I am asked to speak some conversational Spanish.
I might not be extremely fluent in the language but my journey learning Spanish was really an eye-opening experience. Through this experience, I gained more confidence in speaking the language, although to a certain level. One time, a woman who couldn’t speak English and asked me in Spanish, “What time is it right now?” Without hesitation, I was able to tell her the correct time and assure her that she was on time for an appointment. When she asked me that question, I wasn’t nervous like how I used to be when I had to speak in Spanish. Being able to converse in a second language is something I now find kind of cool. At the end of the day, it holds more significance that I went out of my way to push myself into spending many hours learning a language that proves to be useful in certain situations. Another small thing I learned from my experience is that I shouldn’t let one unpleasant experience with an event make me avoid it altogether. The bad experience with the elementary school teacher had some influence in how I felt about the language and I didn’t want to be exposed to it again. Even if I tried to avoid Spanish, it will come back later in my life. I learned it in elementary, middle, and high school. Now even at Rutgers I have to take a foreign language and Spanish is what I plan on taking. Yeah, Spanish is not going to disappear anytime soon (or learning any language for that matter) so I might as well make the most of it.