My homework assignment tonight began, “You are lost in Buenos Aires. You must find your way.”
It has been a bit of a rough day in Buenos Aires. Apparently in week two of learning Spanish, they really pick up the pace and, as a result, I essentially listened—but didn’t understand—three hours straight of class today. It started with trying grasp a recording of a conversation. The two people on the CD, Pauline and Juan, sounded like they were on cocaine—talking a mile a minute, switching from one topic of conversation to another with seemingly no transitions whatsoever, and generally just stating the obvious. (“Here’s the school. Patagonia is really cold in the winter. I have brown hair.”) The goal was to fill in the blanks on the corresponding printed text in our workbooks. I got one out of ten. That’s 10%. To clarify, this is not filling in the blanks with what the word should be, but rather simply filling in the blanks with what they said, out loud, on the recording. The guy with the hearing aid? He got four right.
The next section of today’s class was devoted to prepositions. I know from my non-native speaking students in the writing center how difficult prepositions are in English, and they’re just as tricky in Spanish. Today, in class, I explained that I walk about the market (rather than “to” it), that I drive around my car (rather than “in”) it, and that I talk through politics (rather than “about” them). Just as they do in English, Spanish prepositions can be used in a few different ways, so a lot of it ends up being a matter of memorization, but I continue to get mixed up (mixed down? mixed in? mixed on?).
The remaining part of the lesson involved a skill I don’t even have in English: giving directions. This was surely part of the problem, but my lack of ability to grasp foreign languages is really starting to show. After interrupting to ask for clarification about a dozen times, I got embarrassed and just tried to follow along silently which, inevitably, screwed me. When I was called on to provide directions to the Farmacia, I struggled for about 10 minutes, out loud, before giving up, which is yet another reaction I cannot communicate. If I’m being completely honest, I almost lost my shit and started crying right there.
I think it is important to note that six years of high school and college German classes resulted in the following phrases:
• “A little.”
• “The dog is in the school.”
• “That’s cute.”
• “Where is the toilet, please?”
Six years. Seriously. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that I’m struggling here—that I don’t have much of an ear for languages—but still, today I found myself just really frustrated. Also, I think a lot of it is psychological. When you’re unable to form the simplest phrases (“the paper is in my notebook” or “I walk toward the water”) it becomes really difficult to believe you’re ever going to be able to, say, actually ask for help when you are lost on the street. Also, a good day at school gives me confidence to go out and talk to people, but a bad day really sets me up for failure. After class today, over lunch and then as I tried to purchase a new blank notebook in a shop on my street, no one understood a word I was saying, which does not want to make you try harder, unfortunately. At least not today.
To top things off, I haven’t had any hot water in my apartment in two days which will, it turns out, will make you somewhat crazy.
On a lighter note, in teaching us the word “quizas” (“perhaps”) my teacher sang it to the tune of what I thought was the Cake song, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.” Turns out, the original title was “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” and it was written by Cuban songwriter Osvaldo Farrés. Also, apparently about 30 people covered it before Cake. Interesting stuff.