Thursday, January 16, 2014

Learning a foreign language

The boys have been in Spanish this year and have had what looks to me like success. I can relate better than they realize, but not because I took years of German with progressively lower grades until I finally graduated high school with a D in German III. 

I got that D only because the teacher allowed me to write many (like what? a dozen, maybe) short essays on food, destinations, traditions and culture in Germany. German I is a class I remember. I sat behind Susan and we made each other giggle. I still remember the dumb lesson about the newspaper:

Q: Where is the newspaper?
A: Today is Tuesday.

We laughed at the absurdity of these conversations we would never use. Mostly, we laughed at this one because, if you listen closely, you can hear the real reply whispered from a corner of the classroom:

Q. Where is the newspaper?
A. It's Tuesday, you moron.

If you look up zeitung in Google images, you get this confounding image:

What is she sleeping with? Even the headline is curious. 
Apparently the newspaper in question wasn't delivered on Tuesday, which is an odd day to skip publishing, but that was not explained to the ignorant little Americans. All the audio for this class was on LP vinyl the teacher played on a big, brown school record player. Lift the needle, lower the needle, but we got by despite the technology of our day. 

German II was spent sitting in a room with sunshine pouring through the windows (there's a window memory). Herr Reck didn't teach a thing about German, as I recall. I had a permanent late pass to German II because I was in the school store. I don't remember missing anything, either. Herr Reck took us to London. To be fair, we already lived in Germany. To be fair, I think he liked visiting London. But it would have been cheaper and faster to take us somewhere in Germany. 

German III was in Texas. American teacher in a Texas high school. I hated that school, I hated Texas, I hated her, I hated her class, I hated her lisp. The only good things were the extra credit papers that I got to write in English. I think she was afraid I would come back to her class another year if she didn't let me pass. 

Once she had the class to her house and we made German food, which was nice. These days, she'd be arrested. In the years since I returned to the United States, I have never had really good German food. Since 1982. I was pretty disappointed with the spaetzle at her house, but it was fun making it. The German III class was all girls, too. That made for interesting dynamics for teen-aged drama and nightmares. 

This photo sums up my feelings about the high school in Texas and especially the German III class (although I'm grateful for the super easy extra credit). It also apparently sums up how Germany feels about bailing out bankrupt countries. 

But I'm not writing about German. I'm writing about Irish. 

Years ago, I decided to look into the Irish language. I started trying it out a little here and there at a job where I sat at a computer for 8 hours with about 30 minutes of work every day. It was impossible to figure out the words at that time. I fiddled with it here and there and tried to make sense of a language that bears no resemblance to anything that I was familiar with and offers up only 18 lonely letters in the alphabet. So I put it aside. 

Then years later, I decided to try again. One thing foolishly led to another and I assembled a merry band of people who were also interested in deciphering a language that is lovely to listen to, but difficult to master. Ummm, not master, exactly. We would have been happy to retain even the smallest amount of information about what letters and letter combinations sounded like. 

I showed a teen-aged girl a kid's book that I have. It is in Irish and I was flipping through it. She asked if I had read it and I said no. I couldn't read yet, although I eventually learned a bit. With a deadpan expression, she said with dry sarcasm, "How can you teach a class in Irish if you can't read a little kid's book written in Irish?"


I spent a few years reminding everyone, "I'm not actually the teacher." That's  mĂșinteoir in case you're interested. It's pronounced moon-chore, but there are a lot of nuances in the language and I can't explain them here. So please just go with moon-chore. 

When you look up the word in Google images, you get this exciting teacher-related photo:

In elementary school, back in the early to mid-seventies, back when diversity had a lowercase "d" and wasn't something political, my second-grade teacher decided to introduce us to refried beans and tortillas. I don't remember what else she made us that afternoon. The refried beans were heated up in an electric skillet in our room and most of us were convinced she was feeding us dog food. But I think that may have been the year we started eating tacos at our house, so it was a win. Because Mexican food is delicious.  

Refried beans in Google images brings up this startling image of eyeballs:

At the same school, in the fifth grade, my teacher Mrs. Derby had a student teacher who spoke some Spanish. He was a white guy with brown hair who looked a lot like KC from KC and the Sunshine Band and we were sort of happy to be distracted from our regular duties to learn a language from so far away that we had absolutely no practical need of. Little did we know! He taught us to count to ten, the days of the week, our names and probably a few other things. But it wasn't part of the curriculum and he was only there for a semester or six weeks or something like that. We went back to our regular writing, reading and math. 

He was pretty cute, eh? How did we giggly girls learn any Spanish? 

Around that time I read a book about a girl who was Mexican. Her family lived in a box car. The kids at school were mean to her because she hadn't learned to speak English yet. I don't know how the issue was resolved, but of course she is a nice girl and it was a kid's book. We can assume it ended well. Anyway, the important take away from this book is that I memorized lo siento, which is Spanish for I'm sorry. Not that I use it. 

Reading is fundamental. But Blogger for Android is not. I just accidentally deleted the image of the book. Maybe KC is into computers these days. 

Here is the book again:


Rose said...

I did not take any language...our high school only had French. I had no desire whatsoever. I just thought...they also taught a Bible class....that would sure go over big now, wouldn' it...NOT.

I remember getting student teachers...most of the time we had male student teachers. But we had one female--her name was Miss Maples and she had a dog with a long name, but she called it Pepsi...that is the main thing I remember about her.

Rambling Woods said...

Yea, I can comment. I loved this. It took me right back to my French classes taught by the German teacher which made for an accent that my Grandmother was very upset about. But my bud Susie and I got to spend an entire semester looking at John and his beautiful long hair... Sigh.... He was in our class....