My Spanish language journey
I started learning Spanish by reading textbooks and watching telenovelas. I just googled the first novela I watched, Entre el Amor y el Odio - it finished its U.S. run in the summer of 2003. I only caught the last month of it, so that's when my journey began.
My impetus: the few hours I spent with a day-laborer while building my patio that summer.
In the ten years since I built my house, the Hispanic population of North Carolina has grown from 153,000 to 600,000 and Hispanics comprise at least 40% of the construction industry - some estimate as much as 65%.
At any rate, the man who was helping me build a patio in 2003 spoke no English.
I was frustrated. I'm accustomed to TALKING to people who work with me. I went upstairs and dug around till I found a Spanish-English dictionary (both my kids studied the language) and started painfully stuttering out a few awful sentences.
The guy was utterly fascinated! Had he never seen a dictionary before? He asked if he could borrow it during lunch hour and spent the whole hour with his head buried in it. As I drove him home we tried elementary language exchange. I was able to understand his telling me he lived in a three-room apartment with eight other single guys! Before he left I drew him a map to a used book store where he could find a dictionary of his own.
Not only did this episode make me hot to learn Spanish, it gave me a goal: I wanted to help my new neighbors learn English.
I wanted to help adults, but the only outlet for this I could find (El Centro Latino) was not set up to accept help. Besides, I soon saw that most adult Hispanics are too busy working to have time for language lessons. So I decided to revise my goal and work with kids.
It's the niños who are dragging their families into English language; I guess it's always been that way with immigrants. The Hispanic team which painted my house was headed by a man who spoke no English - his eight-year-old daughter was doing business for him.
So now, I work in an ESL reading program at Ephesus Elementary school, reading with four kids, a half-hour with each of them twice a week.
I want to tell you about that soon, but I'll finish for now by telling you there is an enchanting atmosphere in the second-grade classroom where three of my kids study.
Their teacher has no Spanish at all, but there is a lively self-help network among the Hispanic kids in her class. The kids who are bilingual seem to have antennae - they instantly appear when one of the kids with no English is lost. A flurry of Spanish solves the problem. They look out for each other so tenderly!
Recently I watched two of "my" kids get a special lesson with their teacher. These two began this school year with no English at all, not even a word for "hand" or "book" or "hamburger." Luis has been pulling ahead because he is less afraid - Frida is a perfectionist and it's holding her back. But what I saw during this lesson that hit me right in the heart was that Luis, with only a fraction more English, is already helping Frida - his eyes glow when he sees he has some shred of understanding he can share with her, and she is looking to him happily to receive it.
This work is more fun than I can possibly tell you.
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