My writing life continues to take me to places that I never dreamed possible. A few years ago, I decided to go back to college to pursue a degree in writing. And my academic journey gave me the opportunity to study a second language in another country.
In Spain, I learned more than just the language—I learned about their culture, their history, and the every day life of the people there. I also learned things about myself and human nature. Plus, this experience provided numerous stories to share, like this one about my young friend, Sergio.
One of my best language teachers proved to be a five-year-old boy named Sergio, the grandson of my hostess, Beni.
Sergio would sit with me every day at the kitchen table, after the others had finished their meals and retreated to watch television. He enjoyed pretending to be my teacher.
Child Teacher. As Sergio picked up each piece of fruit, one-by-one, from the ceramic bowl on the kitchen table, he would hold it up and wait for me to say the name of the fruit in Spanish. If I didn’t respond fast enough, he would look at me with his big brown eyes and teach me the appropriate word.
“Me-lo-co-tón,” Sergio said slowly, as he held up a peach and waited for me to repeat after him. And after I responded, he would flash his bright smile, clap his hands, and applaud, “¡Qué bien!” [Great!]
Then, Sergio would grab another piece of fruit and continue to quiz me, until he thought I had mastered each Spanish word. When he grabbed a banana, I would always laugh as I responded, “Ba-na-na.” [Sergio didn’t know we used some of the same words in English.]
I bought Sergio candy and toys to express my gratitude to him. One day, I gave him the mini-flashlight that I carried in my purse from home. As he ran to show his mother, he danced around the apartment snapping the light off and on.
Adult Student. In studying Spanish as an adult, I experienced both humiliation and judgment. My host family often seemed very impatient that I had not mastered their language. And since I was somewhat shy, the looks they exchanged when I tried to speak in their tongue embarrassed me. They would sigh heavily and roll their eyes. Then they would speak slowly with raised voices as they repeated phrases toward me.
I felt ignorant when I couldn’t find the words to express what I wanted to say. But Sergio always responded to me with patience and kindness. He helped me because he wanted to be with me, and we both enjoyed our time together.
Life-long Learner. I suppose I was too stubborn to give up on my goal of becoming bilingual during my studies in Spain, even with the difficulties I faced. I now appreciate the Hispanic population in my own community and the struggles they encounter in a country where most people do not understand their native language.
I discovered some surprises about myself in my efforts to learn another language. My husband, Dan, became more aware of my weaknesses than anyone. I’m sure he’ll never forget the night he walked into our family room at midnight and found me on our carpeted floor in a fetal position—crying because I had received a “B” in a conversational Spanish class.
I laugh when I think of that moment now. But at the time, I didn’t see the humor in the situation. Learning a new language proved to be one of the most humbling and difficult experiences of my life. But it gave me insight into teaching others to write, and I later became a writing instructor. In fact, I discovered that learning to write is much like learning a second language–but that’s another subject for a future post.
And in spite of the hardships and disappointments I encountered during my language school experience in Spain, my most memorable and effective teachable moments came with my young friend, Sergio.
Where has your writing journey taken you?