I was trying to stay positive. Or at least trying to not be too much of a bitch. I really did put in a good faith effort. But it was no use. My first night of Kaimukī Adult Ed Spanish was far, far worse than I ever imagined it could be.
It didn’t look so bad at first. I was happy to see that the campus was full of adults, and not the 22-year old thugs who had spent high school in lock-up that I had
fantasized about feared. And our class didn’t look bad at all. There were a few women in their fifties, a twink in slacks and an aloha shirt buttoned up to the neck, a woman with a blond mustache, a muscled & tanned hottie in tight jeans, a shy Japanese girl, an older Japanese man, and a southern girl in peach corduroys. It was all straight out of central casting.
The teacher walks in, and sets down a copy of Teach Yourself Spanish. It’s a lame title, but I love this series. It got me through Turkish and Bahasa, and I was happy to see this was our text. Things were looking pretty good. Silly me of little faith, I had actually been worried that this would have been a waste of time, that the only thing the Hawai`i Department of Education would be able to produce was Spanish for Illiterates.
Next time I’ll maintain my cynicism a bit longer, because things went downhill rapidly after that. And they stayed down. First our teacher gives her qualifications. She has a minor in Spanish from the University of Houston, and she studied abroad twice. Which: WTF??? They couldn’t find any Mexicans in this town? Then she tells us we’ll learn the alphabet. And colors. And days of the week. And our numbers. And how to ask for directions. And we’ll also learn pronouns, and adjectives, and the present tense. Don’t worry if we start off slow, she tells us. Be patient. It’ll get more involved as we go along.
I’ll be patient. Seré patiente. So: on with the show. ¡Hola! Let’s introduce ourselves! Ok. Let’s! Let’s meet the women. They’ve all taken this class before, but forgot everything after ¡Hola! They want to learn Spanish because it’s such a beautiful language. Let’s meet the Japanese girl. Or not … she speaks so softly we can’t hear a word. On to the twink. Only he’s not a twink, he’s from a small town in Russia & the tightly buttoned shirt is a cultural trait and not a signifier of sexual repression. At least he’s brave enough to say me llamo Boris. Because certainly we all know that already, don’t we? Or maybe not. The woman with the mustache has trouble understanding what we’re doing, and why Boris didn’t answer in English. She sets the bar low, and yet will still fail to clear it anytime in the next two hours.
On to the cutie. Se llama Sean. ¡Hola Sean! Estás muy caliente, Sean. I like the way you fill them jeans. And I’m trying to figure out how to get Sean in my study group, and I almost miss hearing him say that he needs Spanish for his mission. His last mission he visited an orphanage in Enseneda and the little orphan kids were so cute and he just wishes he could talk to them.
And the teacher tells us that kids are just the best to talk to because they use simple words and talk slow, and they’re so much easier to understand than the adults.
Mr. Matsumoto wants to be able to understand Spanish love songs. After this he wants to take salsa lessons. I really like Mr. Matsumoto. I'm withholding judgement on Sean.
My turn. I’m so tempted to say that I want to learn Spanish so that I can get laid in Guadalajara. I don’t, but I decide to show off a bit. Just a bit. So: Me llamo Michael. Me voy a México en Novembre y quiero hablar bien. Basic, I know, but I still get dirty looks from half the class. I’m so getting beat up on the playground.
And then it was on to the evening’s lesson: the alphabet. And we will spend the next two hours learning the alphabet, mostly by playing bingo. The woman with the mustache gets confused, but most of the class figures out the concept. And here is where I really start to suffer, because I think I have a better accent than the teacher. I mean, her shit was bad. We learned ‘che’ as in Chee, the ‘guy who went to Cuba’. We learn ‘ese’ as in seeñor and seeñorita. When I suggest Tijuana for ‘te’ she mis-corrects me and calls it Tia-juana. We skip ‘erre’ because – and this is verbatim – I’m a white girl and it’s hard for me to roll my r’s.
But it’s when she tells us she’ll bring in Spanish movies, and I suggest Almodóvar, and she tells me that she’s never heard of him, that I just give up. I drifted off, and started deconstructing the classroom. Bad idea, because if what I saw on the walls was any indication of how the rest of our schools are run then the Department of Education is being criminally negligent.
Most of the walls were covered in inspirational posters from Nike. There were some hand-printed signs with quotes from A Fifth Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. It’s cheesy, but not criminal. The sign under the clock read Everyone needs a Savior! That was a bit sketchy. But the rest of the signs and posters were in pidgin. The worst: Rulz for all who read dis. Rule No. 2: Put all food in outside trash cans so trash cans no stay pilau and we no die from odorous fumes.
I’m a fan of creoles and pidgins. I admire their beauty and rhythms. But creoles are the language of the streets, and public schools need to be teaching literacy. When the alien overlords appoint me overseer of these islands [since I doubt I’d ever get elected, and coups are difficult these days, aliens are my last hope] one of my first acts will be to put Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto on notice: clear the schools of pidgin in five days or face jail time.
Back to Spanish pre-101. I’m not so worried now that I’ll miss half the classes. I’ll probably see it through, though. I’ll treat this as a study group, but continue to teach myself. It should at least keep me on track.