When asked to name one big regret I have in life, I’m pretty lucky. I don’t have a lot of terrible, life-altering mistakes to choose from. Sure, I’ve been through some things that, at the time, I would have skipped if I could, but I wouldn’t change the pattern God has woven into my life for anything, even if some of the threads were not of my choosing. No, my one big regret is actually one of mere practicality:
I regret not taking Spanish as my foreign language in high school.
Don’t mistake me; I enjoyed the French language very much. At one time, I was surprisingly proficient in it, and was even able to navigate among native speakers for a six week exchange program in Aurillac, France. My fluency has ebbed away with disuse, but I still remember the essentials. Ou est le WC? = Where is the bathroom? J’ai besoin d’aller à l’hôpital! = I need to go to the hospital! Est-ce crêpe sans gluten? = Is this crepe gluten-free? (Okay, I confess. I had to look up the French word for “gluten”. It turns out that it’s “gluten”. Who knew?) I was understandably proud of my French-speaking abilities once upon a time, especially on those very rare occasions when the villains in a spy movie we were watching would speak a smattering of French and I was able to (sort of) translate for all my friends: “If we don’t get the (something) letters within two days, the man in blue will (uh…do something) to our (something – did he say cadavre or confrère?), so hurry!”
Okay, so it wasn’t that useful.
On the other hand, there have been scores of occasions when the ability to speak Spanish would have been a real, tangible asset. I’ve met people from South America in nearly every state that I’ve lived in, and some of them have not yet learned enough English to be clearly understood. It would have been nice, for example, to be able to talk to the soft-spoken man back in Searcy who turned up at Hastings with Paul’s stolen bicycle. It took half an hour and some earnest charades for us to make him understand that the bike belonged to Paul and to find out that he had bought it from a man who “had many bicycles” that he was selling out of his truck. Fortunately, the next time we met him, to give him a hand-me-down bicycle we had lucked into, he was surrounded by bilingual friends, and communication was much easier. I would have liked to have been able to make my homesick Nicaraguan college roommate feel more welcome, but our interactions were painfully limited by our language barrier. And just recently, I had a sweet family come in to use our church food bank who didn’t speak any English at all. Though our smiles were there, the words were not. It took a long, awkward effort on all of our parts for me to figure out that they were looking mainly for diapers and baby food.
Time and again, I have wished to go back in time and check the little box marked “español” on my 10th grade class schedule application. Time and again, I’ve regretted the whim of fifteen year-old me, who thought French sounded more mysteriously romantic and better befitting a wannabe Baudelaire like myself.
It finally occurred to me this week that I could stop regretting… and just learn Spanish.
So that is my new project! Voy a aprender a hablar español! Sure, my brain is older now, and my language acquisition center is probably draped in cobwebs, but I don’t need to be a qualified UN translator. I just want to be able to hold a real conversation (i.e. one that doesn’t involve la biblioteca*) with people I meet. I can learn that much, right?
The first thing I did was look up Rosetta Stone. Ouch. Our budget doesn’t have a “language education” category, so that’s out. Aren’t there any free options out there? I poked around on the internet for a few days, not really finding anything useful. And then, Lifehacker did that magic trick where they featured an article that told me exactly what I needed to know.
So I’m signed up on Duolingo. I created an account and downloaded the free app for my tablet and phone (it’s available for iOS and Android platforms!) I’m already halfway through lesson one (yo soy una mujer)! Now all I need is a Spanish-speaking friend to practice on. Or a classmate. Anybody else wanna hablar español?