A Bad Beginning
Kia and Spanish
I didn’t start my Spanish studies in love, in fact the first few years of our relationship we didn’t really get along and at one point, we almost split up for good. We first met in junior high school when my mom said it would be a good idea to learn a foreign language so I chose it as one of my electives. Far from being charming, Spanish threw unfamiliar trilling rr sounds at me, slapped me upside the head with irregular verbs and insisted that I go along with the ludicrous idea that every single thing in this world, including things like tables and paper bags, have a gender and I had to learn them all. It was pretty bad but I thought maybe, if I give it another chance, Spanish will mend its ways and become more friendly so I signed up again my freshman year of high school.
Far from being more friendly, this time Spanish had teamed up with a strict teacher who seemed to get some kind of perverse pleasure from humiliating us with exasperated eye rolls, hopeless sighs and flashes of anger when we mishandled her precious language. That was enough for me, obviously we were not meant to be so I vowed to leave Spanish alone from now on and I did, for about 5 years. Then, I would like to say that Spanish came back to me crawling on its knees begging my forgiveness but no, it pushed its way back into my life with threats and demands.
As a junior at college, my advisor explained to me that if I wanted to graduate in my chosen major I had to at least master an intermediate level of Spanish. NOOOOOOOOO, I can’t do it! I won’t do it! I don’t want to do it! Spanish hates me, or maybe I hate Spanish, it doesn’t really matter, we were not meant for each other! No matter my lamentations, Spanish did not go away, it just sat there right in between me and graduation, a giant gelatinous hulk of a thing that I couldn’t get around, over or under, so I decided to take a running start and just plow my way through the middle of it hoping I could hold my breath long enough to get to the other side.
This is when our love story turns around. I signed up for a summer course in Mexico in which I would live with a host family and take intensive classes every day. Spanish greeted me with a bang! My host family spoke not a word of English but their Spanish was considerably more fun than it had been back in my high school classroom. Suddenly Spanish had a sense of humor and laughed at my mistakes, not in a bad way but in a fun way. It greeted me at the door with a shot of tequila so I wouldn’t be so nervous, a peace offering perhaps?
I was still utterly confused and a bit distrustful of the language but I had turned myself over to it and had no choice but to go along with its rules. This is when Spanish began to show me its charms. It seduced me with Salsa and Merengue in the evenings. It was social and took me to parties where it prodded me to try new flavors, picante pierced my tongue only to be soothed by pastel de tres leches. Chocolate was suddenly and shockingly paired up with chicken and chilies. It was emotional, sometimes making me laugh so hard my sides hurt, sometimes making me so angry I lost my temper and yelled, sometimes making me feel so intensely alive I could barely be contained in my physical body. It was immensely talented with literature that opened my eyes to new worlds, art that both made me think and enthralled me with its colors, a history so rich I would spend years dedicating myself to its study. Over those 8 weeks, Spanish seduced me as nothing else ever had and I was in love!
The Tools of Seduction:
Songs - Derroche, Alfonsina y el Mar, Hey Guera
Movies - La Historia Oficial, Como Agua para Chocolate
Books - Eva Luna, El Amor en los Tiempos de Colera
Food - Mole, Pastel de Tres Leches, Ceviche
Artists - Orozco, Frida Kahlo
Kerem and English
English popped into my living room on the lips of George Micheal urging me to have “Faith”. It was impossibly beautiful, too beautiful to be approached directly but I knew I needed to make it mine so I set out to conquer it. My first attempts to approach English were clumsy and humiliating as I tried to sing the songs that I heard on TV, but I pushed aside the embarrassment and after the first few prep years I could at least comprehend the object of my affection a little bit. The number of vowels required to write a simple word like “beautiful” was still baffling but I was not daunted. Slowly it began to reward me with small gifts.
My native language, Turkish, does not have a word for frustrated even though it is a condition that people suffer from on a daily basis. I felt like a fish suddenly becoming aware that the substance surrounding it had a name, and that name was water. Our romance was slow and steady as I pursued English year after year. Its effect on me kind of like an extended release antihistamine, keeping me feeling open and good.
I continue the pursuit of English with every idiom and slang term I come across. It will never entirely be mine, I will always be pursuing it. There will always be new aspects to uncover but English has richly rewarded my faithfulness with gifts of laughter and opportunity. To this day I fall in love with it all over again every time I watch a musical or read a great book. The language that was too beautiful to approach directly has proven to be quite nice if still a bit elusive.
Beauty and the Beast
Didar and English
I first met English in the 6th grade. I did not like it at all for about 3 years. At first my mind was not able to realize that I could communicate in another language which sounded like "made up" words. I was very intimidated for a long time. I even failed the English class on 6th grade.
I remember very clearly being so worried about the make up exam at the end of the summer. Because if I failed that too I had to repeat the whole 6th grade. I remember every detail about the night before, and the day of the make up exam. I barely passed it that year and I had similar problems the following 2 school years.
Then something magical happened, we had very close family friends. I adored the oldest daughter of the family. She started studying English at college and she would talk about how interesting the structure or the grammar in English is. She started studying with me and my whole attitude changed towards English. Now it was pure excitement, curiosity and love.
Long-Distance Soul Mate
Sonia and Spanish
As I sit in Curacao, by the beach listening to Spanish I feel reconnected to all of its joy, love, sadness and comfort. We met when I was young, I was part of an exchange program working with kids in Colombia. I never thought I would adopt this language as my own or be adopted into its families and cultures. I never thought it would become a part of my being, a part of my soul, but it has. In the classroom it was scary, nouns and verbs were difficult to grasp, but out in the city with friends it was affectionate and the grammar began to dance instead of march.
At my new home, I was invited to become better acquainted with Spanish with a gift, two gifts actually. The first gift was a book and the second gift was the time given lovingly and patiently by my host father to help me understand it. There and then, between those pages, I adopted and was adopted by the culture, the language and the family all at once.
Eventually I had to leave Colombia and Spanish and even though I have not returned to Colombia since, I have returned to Spanish again and again. At one time in my life, Mexico became a second home for me. As soon as I stepped off of the airplane it felt like being surrounded by family, it felt like I belonged.
I live far away from Colombia, Mexico and Spanish now but it will always be my soul mate. I will find it and it will find me no matter where I am or what I am doing.
Have you ever fallen in love with a language? What is your story? Please share in the comments, I would love to hear your story!
For more Valentine's Day inspiration, check out these Blog With Friends posts, they are sure to give you ideas and get you in the mood for romance!
Hi, I'm Kia.
I help ESL / EFL teachers create fun, effective courses that students love.