One of my favorite baristas at Fourbucks was telling me tonight that she’s going to be taking Spanish during the second session of summer school at the local community college.
I tried that too. For a little background, my first year of college was spent at a major university, where I had a little too much fun and ended up on academic probation after the second semester. I made it through summer school and got off probation, but by that point I had gotten engaged and decided to take a year off from school, move back home, and work full-time. See, this is where my normally good judgment took a serious downturn.
After a few months of working my ass off in a fast food restaurant, I decided that maybe going back to college might help me earn more than minimum wage – so I trotted down to the local community college and signed up for the biggest course load I could handle and still keep my job. One thing I discovered was that in order to get an associate’s degree, I had to have one full year of a foreign language. Irony of ironies, the only language offered was Spanish which I had zero experience in (I had studied French and Latin in high school) but I figured it probably wouldn’t be too hard.
I will never forget our teacher – Mrs. Marshall. Probably the worst teacher on the face of the planet. She had been a professor there dating back to the Cro-Magnon era, so there was no chance of her being fired for incompetence. A typical class consisted of her dragging out her old record player, putting on a 45-minute record called “Learn to Speak Spanish” and then sitting back and filing her nails the entire time. And it wasn’t like we could complain to the chairman of the foreign language department, because she was it.
I ended up earning A’s in Spanish and when I graduated with my associate’s degree I thanked my lucky stars that I would never have to face Mrs. Marshall again. But she would certainly come back to haunt me.
I transferred to a smaller four-year state school and much to my horror discovered that they required not one, but two years of a foreign language in order to graduate. So it was either take Spanish II or start all over with French or Latin. Stupidly, I decided that I would stick with Spanish because I was confident that I could breeze through the class.
Oh, how wrong I was. As it turned out, the chairman of the Languages department was our professor, and she conducted the entire class in Spanish only. Well, after listening to records for an entire year that basically taught me how to say “Where is the nearest pharmacy” and “I am going to shampoo my hair,” I was ill-prepared for the horrors of Spanish II. I ended up with a D, and according to the professor it was a total Sympathy D at that. I think I got the D just because I made every class, not because I had any skills.
After licking my wounds for a semester, I sucked it up and decided that I would use summer school to kick some Spanish ass – so I signed up for both semesters, did not take any other classes, and prayed that we would have some lame adjunct professor. I walked into class that first day and was pleased to see at least half of my class from the first time I took it…so obviously I wasn’t alone. Not to mention the fact that we had a relatively decent and laid-back adjunct professor who cut us some slack and made the classes pretty enjoyable for the most part. I ended up earning a B and a B-, which weren’t great for my GPA but at least I had fulfilled the requirement for graduation.
The saddest part of all this is that other than a few token phrases that I learned from Sesame Street and some cuss words, I can’t speak any decent Spanish at all. I’m a little bitter about my experience with Mrs. Marshall, because I think tenured positions shouldn’t guarantee a job to someone who is incompetent or really doesn’t give a damn about doing a good job. The funny thing was that a few years after graduation, I was back home visiting and I bumped into her at a local restaurant.
“Oh, my dear, how are you?” she trilled. “Are you using your Spanish much?”
“No, not really,” I replied.
“Oh, such a shame. You had such a natural gift for languages.”
How would she know? I guess when she was busy filing her nails and balancing her checkbook she might have heard me reciting along with the records?
“So,” I told the Fourbucks barista after relating my tale of woe, “I can barely speak any freaking Spanish at all.”
“Don’t feel bad,” she said, “I took three years of German and the only thing I can remember is Weiner schnitzel and sauerkraut.”
Maybe I didn’t do so badly after all. At least I know a few good cuss words.