Pamby The Polyglot-Wannabe

“Do not betray the language or it will end up betraying you.” – Cadz Malbarosa

I just plunked down Php 4,000 for another term at Instituto Cervantes. I’ll probably be doing “The Budgetarian” diet in the next two weeks or so, but that’s fine. It’s all worth it.

When I was younger, I liked the idea of being fluent in many languages. I’m sure a lot of people will agree with the opinion that I had as a ten-year-old, that polyglots sound cosmopolitan. The fact that my grandmother can speak Spanish added to my eagerness to learn a language different from Filipino and English.

In college, I finally had the chance to learn a foreign language in a formal setting. Our curriculum in San Beda required us to take six units in foreign language. Luckily, I had Spanish. I wasn’t really keen on taking up the other FL subjects that the school offered. My last name may scream Chinese but I felt that I was too old to learn Mandarin. I also knew I was going to have a hard time pronouncing things in German (despite the Kastner ancestry) and in French.

Srta. Justine Balanag was my professor for two semesters and I loved her. Pretty and soft-spoken, she never made us feel dumb for mixing up genders. I loved my first sem with her and did pretty well in class.

By second semester though, I was singing a different tune. Conjugation, for me, is a dirty word. I struggled forming verbs and hated seeing conjugation exercises in our exams. Our professor tried to make the lesson more enjoyable by presenting the lyrics to No Me Ames and having us fill in the blanks with the correct form of the verb. When Srta. Balanag asked if we were familiar with the Jennifer Lopez song, one of my classmates said with aplomb, “Yes, that’s the Spanish version of Love Don’t Cost A Thing.” That was the only highlight of our lessons in conjugation.

I told Mama I was having difficulties in Spanish and she wasn’t much help since in her heydays at UST, she would just read the newspaper while their Spanish prof (who also happened to be a nun) would teach. Obviously, Mama disliked the subject but she could get away with that type of attitude, having learned French and Japanese when she was younger. Fortunately, I survived the class but I knew I could do better.

June this year, I enrolled at Instituto Cervantes de Manila (IC). They administer a diagnostic exam to those who have previously taken Spanish classes so they can determine the level wherein the student will be placed. I decided not to take that and just enroll in Level A 1.1. I felt that my six units aren’t going to hack it. I found out that most of my classmates in IC felt the same. Just like me, they had good professors in college but they were really insecure of their grasp of basic Spanish.

Our first instructor was Senor Francisco Garcia. I had to restrain myself from giggling when I first heard his name because I was reminded of Senor Francisco in “Sarah Ang Munting Bratinella”. He was really funny and shot down anyone who was trying to go beyond the lesson plan, not because he didn’t want us to grow but for the very simple reason that there were students who really were beginners. He mentioned that in the past, students would drop out because they felt left behind by their know-it-all classmates. If you want to go beyond the lesson, he will get you transferred to the next level… which makes perfect sense. He also said that we should not be scared to ask questions or to make mistakes. “Don’t mind what your classmate will think,” he said, “he or she did not pay for your tuition.”

Despite his good heart, my classmates and I had our share of challenges. For starters, we are required to speak ONLY in Spanish while in class. Yes, even during out first meeting. I remember assuming we would spend the first thirty minutes getting to know each other only to have Senor Garcia come in, mutter something in Spanish, and go out of the room to look for someone. The minute he left, we all had bewildered looks on our faces and were saying only one thing, “Ansabe?!” Later on, we found out he was complaining because the computer wasn’t working.

Senor spoke really slow and wasn’t above to pantomiming in class so we could understand him. Sometimes, he would use Filipino when he noticed that no amount of explanation in Spanish would suffice. He would also speak in Filipino when surprised, a good example of which was during an activity where had to match phrases in column A and column B. When my classmate was called to recite, he said “Mi esposa es….” his eyebrows furrowed a little to look for the answer, “siendo comida por mis amigos”.

Senor’s jaw dropped. “Huy ano ba yan? Ikaw ba papayag kang gawin sa asawa mo yan?” he asked, aghast. To this day, I laugh at the memory of his reaction. Senor also seemed to have picked up on my joking nature as he would change his mode of questioning when I was the one reciting.

Tu prefieres Felipe?” he asked, while discussing La Familia using the Royal Family of Spain as a model. “Si! I answered, bobbing my head excitedly. “El es guapo, es rico, y es listo. Quiero poner Felipe en mi armario!” It was a good thing our classmate, who was a Carmelite nun,wasn’t easily scandalized.

The most difficult exercise I had to do was the one on giving directions. Spatially-challenged as I am, I don’t know how to give instructions to our place in Filipino, let alone Spanish! When it was my turn to present, I just made it seem jeepneys stop right in front of my house. My classmate who hails from Batangas, did a far better job at mapping out her route.

Before A 1.1 ended, we were asked to fill out an evaluation form regarding our class and our instructor. One of the questions were “Does your instructor speak only in Spanish while class is in session?” We were all wondering if there was an adverb more extreme than “always”.

Our professor for Level A 1.2 was Maria Luisa Young, and I hate her. She is so perfect! Intelligent, pretty, funny, fluent in Spanish and French, well-dressed, she is the woman I wanted to become when I was a kid. Have I mentioned she’s also nice? Despite her goddess-like persona, she is very down to earth. My female classmates and I were deeply disturbed when we found out that the pretty girl whom we thought was a student was actually our teacher. “Bakit ganun, lahat ata nasa kanya?!” we’d ask ourselves every Saturday. I’m not kidding.

Incidentally, she was Srta. Balanag’s French professor in Ateneo De Manila University. When I recounted to Srta. Balanag we’d use to describe Srta. Young, she replied “You forgot well-traveled.” Lol. Spot on. Really, she’s amazing and I’m uncertain if I’m jealous of her or if I have a crush on her.

Srta. Young is nice also but I had trouble keeping up with the lessons. There were so many verbs to memorize and conjugate, ranging from regular, to irregular, to extremely irregular, to reflexive. “Como se dice…” has to be the most overused phrase in class. There were times I felt incredibly stupid especially when I took too long to answer a question.

Little by little, I found myself dreading having to go to class but had a change of heart when we started discussing gerunds. I don’t know why but something about the technicality of the lesson appealed to me. So with renewed interest, I enrolled in the next level and am now keeping my fingers crossed that our class won’t get dissolved due to low enrollment rate.

I’m far from being multilingual, I still want to burst into tears whenever I hear a Spanish native speaking rapidly in his mother tongue. As a Filipino, the only advantage I have as a Spanish student is that some words and pronunciation rules are similar (their grammar is an entirely different discussion) to those in our own language. I still struggle but I love learning Spanish, not just because I have a perfect excuse to watch telenovelas (Pasion de Gavilanes, anyone?) but also because one can’t help but learn a country’s customs and culture while learning its language. Behind each expression is an interesting story that is tied to a nation’s identity.

I’ve created another wordpress site for my posts written in Spanish. There, I will try to accomplish the 30-Day Blog Challenge among other things. Wish me luck!


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