Recently, my distinguished Alumni organization, UC Berkeley, called me for a donation to the School of Education. They are clever in their money-asking ways too. The girl announced that she was majoring in Education to be an English teacher, and as an Alumni, do I have any advice for her. Oooh. I got suckered right into that one. I love giving advice! She seemed shocked when I said she should learn Spanish if she wanted to work in California schools.*
If I could go back into time, I really would have double-majored in Spanish. Working in California schools, it really is a necessity. I have taken summer courses to practice and bought basically every “Spanish for Educators” product there is.** I speak conversational Spanish. And by “conversational Spanish” I mean I can understand what people are saying about 80% of the time, can respond and somewhat get my point across, can fumble my way through an IEP meeting, and know a slew of middle-school pejoratives.
I am a closet Spanish speaker too. I don’t tell anyone for fear they will make me speak. I only use it to spring upon unsuspecting middle schoolers who think I don’t know what they’re saying. I really need to be more brave and try to use it, even if it’s not pretty.
The one thing I can say about being a closet Spanish speaker is that I have tremendous empathy for second language learners. I can understand the “silent period” in which you don’t want to try using the second language (Is that period supposed to last 5 years? Probably not). I can understand how frustrating it is to know what you want to say and not be able to say it correctly. And I understand how it can be confusing to disentangle whether or not a student has a learning disability or is learning English. I certainly had my moments in Spanish school in Costa Rica where I felt learning disabled. And I can understand why a student would have conversational skills but not be able to do academic work. (Any beginning Spanish students here know the words for Homeostasis? How about for Mitosis?) My point is that there is a big difference between chatting with someone and knowing specific vocabulary for academics or explaining disabilities. The vocabulary involved in special education is difficult enough to explain in English.
I guess I’ll just make a New Years Resolution: Practice expressive Spanish skills, no matter how malo it sounds.
Oh, and give back to alma matter.
*Because UC Berkeley is full of overachievers, she said, “Well, I already speak 5 languages, but I guess I could add Spanish too!” I felt mono-linguistically inferior.
**This one series was kind of prejudiced. One of the first phrases to learn was, “Carlos está suspendido!” (Carlos is suspended). Why couldn’t Carlos está en el cuadro de honor (Carlos is on the honor roll)?