On top of teaching 26 English classes a week and being an au pair to 3 lovely children I am also in the process of attempting to learn Spanish. Like with most things in my life I want it to happen instantly. I want my students to instantly be able to speak English just like I want to instantly be able to speak Spanish but it’s not going to happen. So I’ve decided to seek some help. I have enrolled in a course at the local language school.
To set the stage, there are 8 students in the class including me. There are 4 Brazilians 2 mom age women, one girl my age, and one guy that I’m still trying to figure out his age. Then there is one Russian grandma-aged woman, a French girl that is also about my age, a young pregnant Dutch woman that hasn’t showed up since the first week, and yours truly. Now mind you this is a very interesting dynamic to have in a classroom. Not many people have the opportunity to be in the same place with some many different cultures on a regular basis and I’m pretty sure that is why my profe (teacher) decided that he was going to take full advantage of this group dynamic. Since the first day of class (over a month ago) we have completed exactly two pages of a textbook meanwhile we have had classroom discussions on everything from Ebola to women’s rights to Russia’s supposed submarine in Swedish waters and everything in between.
Now to a person that likes to stay up to date on current events and has spent some time studying human rights issues in addition to calling herself a feminist this would be an AWESOME class, if only I didn’t have to speak in Spanish and I maybe had one supporter in the entire class. But this is not the case. Instead take an extremely complex issue, add a dash of frustrating language barrier, with a dollop of ignorance, a hint of human rights knowledge, throw in some stereotypes and you get a Liz three times a week ready to smash her head against a wall. Thus I will now recount a few fabulous moments from my Spanish class from Hell.
Some things I need to point out to better understand this story:
- The Spanish language in of itself is racism. You see in Spanish, at least in Spain Spanish there is one word for skin colors. You are either carne (meat) colored or you are not. Now according to my last years teacher you cannot be pálido (pale) unless you are sick. And if you have black skin you are a negrito (according to Spaniards when you add –ito to the end of a word it makes it softer). So your options are carne or negrito to describe skin. Excellent start.
- I did not speak Spanish all summer and thus I was a little rusty on day three of class.
- I prefer to refer to people’s skin color as a characteristic like hair color of eyes color. i.e. I say “a person with black skin” Not simply a black person.
As we started discussing racism my blood began to boil, as it usually does when Spaniards discuss race issues simply because the Spanish language has not advanced itself to accommodate the globalized world we now live in. I had so many things to say but no vocabulary to discuss it. Of course, I tried to avoid speaking my looking down the entire time at my notebook, my lovely profe took this as me saying, “Call on me I would love to talk!” Idiot.
So when asked if race was still an issue in the United States I tried to calmly explain one of the most current issues in the USA referring to Ferguson, Missouri. Now because the vocabulary words to tell this story are so often used in my everyday Spanish life this was not a problem at all. Words like “to kill”, “hold accountable”, “shootings” and “protestors” always roll right off my tongue. So this was my first issue. The second was that I was trying to tell the story as I would in English “a police officer with white skin shot a teenager with black skin.” Every time I went to say “a person with black skin” he would correct me to say un negro. This was infuriating. He continued to interrupt and also insisted on trying to help me by saying things that, believe it or not, were not the words I was looking for. In fact, I was NOT trying to say that the teenager was dangerous, I was NOT trying to defend the white police officer, I was NOT trying to say that the protestors are overreacting.
We were off to a fabulous start.
Topic: Gender Gap
The gender wage gap has been a hot topic these days with Obama making a push to close the gap even if he hasn’t started this fine initiative in his own office, aka The White House. So I started, talking about how women, on average, make $0.77 for every $1.00 men make in the United States. They listened. My teacher interrupted. And so I carried on. Then after it was my turn my profe asked my Russian classmate to explain how it was in Russia. I then found myself listened to a 10 minute diatribe, in Spanish, about how in Russia women ALWAYS get paid the same amount of money and that it was crazy that in the United States they don’t get paid the same. I wanted to launch out of my seat. Luckily, she did admit that it is harder for women to get promotions in Russia but other than that the United States is the one with moral issues.
At the end of class, after I had reattached my head from popping off, our teacher decided he wanted to learn more about the gender issues in our respective countries so he told us (the two women in class for the day- not a great day for attendance) to write a paper on this topic. Then he turned to the one male student in the class and asked, “What would you like to write about tonight?” If my head had been a bobble head it would have popped off its spring. I turned and said, “What?! Why doesn’t he have to write about women’s issue?” This was somehow both obvious and funny to the two males in the room. Obviously he shouldn’t write about women’s rights because he is obviously not a woman and thus has no knowledge about these issues. I sat and starred at them as they continued this conversation. Once the student decided that he wanted to write about music, specifically Bob Marley, and my profe agreed I lost it. “This is the issue! Men need to learn about women’s rights too! He is just as capable of writing about women’s rights laws in his respective country (Brazil) as we are!” Needless to say after saying this rather loudly and in Spanish in both the profe’s and student’s faces they found me comical. They laughed out loud as I walked out the door. Needless to say I did not do my writing assignment that night and I was flabbergasted the next day when the male student actually brought in an assignment on reggae music.
Topic: Capital Punishment
We were discussing something most likely completely different when my profe decided to switch topics to Russian life verse American life (my profe has a sick obsession with watching my blood boil). I was respectfully listening to the way Russians are all blissfully enjoying all their Human Rights in Russia, when I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to gently ease into the issues currently taking place in Russia revolving around LGBT rights. I was simply saying the it is not true that Russia should be the new poster child for Human Rights when my profe decided to cut me off and say “oh and everyone has human rights in the United States?” Now I will be the first to admit that United States has a loooonnngggg way to go on many issues but at least we have legalized same sex marriage in 32 states. Travelling around the world tends to make me extremely homesick and also never want to return all at the same time. But before I could even bring up gay rights my profe was in my face asking about capital punishment and how I felt about the subject. Now, unfortunately, Capital punishment is also legal in 32 states. And yes, Japan is the only other industrial democracy in the world that has the death penalty. But just because I am an American does not mean I agree with this subject, or disagree. But before I had the chance to speak freely on this subject in Spanish (because, again, this vocabulary is so useful) the wriest smirk crossed my profe’s face and he decided to open the textbook.
On this fine day in class we were actually working from our textbook trying to complete another page (wahoo page three!) when gender issues presented themselves. We were learning about how to write a CV and the vocabulary necessary to explain how long you have done something i.e. from x year to x year you have done x. To do this our textbook had a job-opening ad in it and next to it two candidates and their qualifications. One candidate was a woman and one was a man. Once we had finished reading the two candidates’ profiles the profe asked us which one we would choose for the job. The Russian woman thought that the man deserved the job. I was zoning out when the profe then asked her why. “Because the woman has a child.” Say what now? My head was back in the game. Now why would that be a reason to hire or not to hire a person AND both of the candidates have children! I was explaining that this was not a reason to hire or not to hire a person a woman when profe cut me off and asked which one I would choose. I said the woman. At which point he turned to me and asked, “why, because she’s a woman?” As if my feminism was something to mock. As if my thoughts on how women and men should be treated equally were the dreams only fairytales could fulfill. As if hiring a woman over a man is something only a woman would do. I turned to him, keeping my head on my shoulders, and said, “No, because she is more qualified.”
Mind you the wanted ad required a person to be able to speak both English and Arabic and the woman had 8 years of English and 3 years of Arabic training while the man only had 4 years of English and no Arabic training. The man also had a 3-month-old baby, while the woman had a 10-year-old child. I made my case based around the former point rather than the latter point and told my fine profe this at which he laughed at and dismissed the class.
Topic: Spanish Verbs
Randomly, while we were in the middle of the exercise profe decided to tell us how when Indians are learning Spanish they tend to speak on the in the infinitive. Now I dost protest. I turned to my profe and said, “Um, I do that too it’s not just the Indians.” And then, believe it or not, the Russian woman and I actually agreed on something. We agreed that Spanish verbs are absolutely ridiculous. Now I know nothing about the Russian language but I do know we weren’t going to get any support on this subject from those in the class that speak French or Portuguese. Our profe didn’t appreciate this attack on his language; imagine that! So I decided to make my point.
“Spanish people do that too when they are learning English.”
Yes, you dumbass because learning a new language is hard.
“Yes, when Spaniards speak English they throw the word ‘to’ all the places it doesn’t belong because in Spanish correr means ‘to run’ or ser means ‘to be’ etc. so people often say ‘I to be happy’ rather than I AM happy. Or ‘do you to run?’ ” He looked at me and laughed. I continued.
“Yes many people do this, but obviously not my students.” I was about to lay it on him because after one full week of teaching I felt superior to this profe.
“Oh yes? And how many students to do have?” Profe asked.
“300.” (more accurately 289) But the class looked at me like oh look she’s saying the wrong words again. I then explained that I wasn’t.
Then the profe looked at me and asked, “Are you an auxiliar de conversacion?” As if that was somehow a lesser position than someone else that teaches English.
“Yes.” I said. He nodded his head, looked down at his paper and moved onto the next subject.
Stay tuned for more blood boiling stories that are unfortunately bound to occur!