When I was in elementary school in Morocco, they taught us French at school, and I thought it was a lot of fun! The teacher sang songs with us. He taught us conversation drills. He taught us several nouns and adjectives describing the nouns, but at the time, I really knew nothing about grammar. My French teacher was also a missionary from England, and he gave me religious tracts written in French about Jesus. I tried to decipher the tracts, but didn’t understand as much as I would have liked.
We returned to America when I was in the end of elementary school. My older sister was in middle school, and she was able to enroll in a Spanish class, but they wouldn’t put me in any kind of language class because of my age. I looked at my sister’s books and notebooks from her Spanish class. They were so fascinating! I wanted to study Spanish too! However, they told me I had to wait.
When I got in middle school in California, I was able to get one year of beginning Spanish. That teacher was absolutely boring! I wondered why I ever took his class. Mostly, he had us doing workbooks, filling in blanks, and memorizing words. I thought, “Wow! Spanish isn’t as easy and fun as I thought it would be,” but I understand as an adult that it was his methodology.
Finally, when I was in high school in Oklahoma, they had Spanish classes again, and I had not lost my interest in language just because of one boring teacher. I enrolled in Spanish in my sophmore year in high school. I had an extremely good teacher that year! She began in Spanish 1 by teaching us the Spanish pronunciation of the letters. It really helped me a lot! Everything she did with us was fun! She taught us to conjugate verbs in simple present tense and past tense (but I think she didn’t realize that what she was teach us was actually more like present perfect than simple past tense.) She also taught us gerunds and present progressive tense. She was great on grammar and pronunciation! She loved Mexico! She had a Foreign Language Club that met after school, and I joined. The students from the French class had French pen pals, but she didn’t have pen pals for us, so my friend who was taking French got me a French pen pal that I wrote back and forth with. I wrote in English, and she wrote in French. I didn’t know enough grammar to write in French, but I could decipher what she wrote. There was a trip the Foreign Language Club took to Mexico, but I didn’t have the money to go. However, I worked after school in a restaurant and saved the money to go the next year.
The next year, I took Spanish again. My teacher didn’t teach us any new grammar, and it disappointed me. However, I enjoyed what she did. The class was much smaller because very few people got to Spanish 2. There was just a handful of students in Spanish 2. She had us reading out loud in Spanish and answering questions about what we were reading. I really enjoyed it and was quite good at it. In fact, I was so good that there was one award for Spanish given out every year, and I not only got an A in Spanish 1 and another in Spanish 2, but I got the award for Spanish in my high school. I had enough money saved that year to go to Mexico with the group.
Both the students from the French classes and the Spanish classes went. We took a bus from Choctaw, then we went to Ada, Oklahoma and picked up more students. After that, we met a lot more students from other schools at the Mexican border. We all got on a sleeper train and headed for Mexico City. Along the way, we stopped at a bull ring restaurant. My brother was in the group, and he fought the bull at the bullring restaurant. I was having a blast! In Mexico City, we toured church buildings, went to Mexican history lectures, went to a Folklore Ballet that was full of people in bright Indian costumes. We went to a resort and went swimming. We went to the pyramids outside of Oklahoma city. In the day, we climbed the pyramids, and at night, there was an extremely impressive sound and light show explaining the history and meaning of he pyramids. I went shopping and learned to do what is called “Jew” people down. I talked them into a lower price, in Spanish. The other students were extremely impressed! They couldn’t speak Spanish, and I was translating for everyone. When the other students wanted me to “Jew” the vendors down for them, the Mexican vendors wouldn’t relent. They said I was the only one they would give a discount to, and the other students couldn’t have a discount. I walked in the park and listened to the mariachis. I went to an International party at the university in Mexico City. I was having a blast!! However, the trip had to come to an end, and we went home.
High school didn’t last either, and I graduated. I thought about being a Spanish major at the university, but I ended up as an English major so I could go to Japan. There was an American girl with us in Japan who became my best friend. She could also speak Spanish. In the beginning, it was really hard when our Japanese friends could speak English, but left us out and had Japanese conversations in front of us, so she and I did the same to them. She and I had Spanish conversations in front of them and showed them how it felt to be left out. We didn’t say anything important, but they got the point and stopped leaving us out of the conversations.
When I graduated from college, I took a group of American and Japanese friends to Mexico with me. It was their first time. We went right over the border, and they found it very interesting. We ate Mexican food and went shopping.
I didn’t need Spanish after that for several years. I had gotten married, and I was the mother of two. We had come back from Nigeria, and ended up in Granbury, Texas. They announced at church that they were going to begin a Mexican ministry, and they wanted people who had high school Spanish to participate. They were going to begin with a refresher course in Spanish. I took the refresher course. After, I attended a Bible class taught in Spanish. I got a Spanish/English New Testament, and I was learning a lot of Spanish. I got a book to teach myself Spanish and studied at home. It was a really good book! I began teaching English to the Mexicans with a Mexican girl named Estella. Estella and I became great friends! She taught me a lot of the Mexican recipes that are on my blog. She helped me understand the difference between “ser” and “estar” which I was struggling with. Estella and I spent a lot of time together until she moved to Abilene to go to school, and then got married.
I had lost contact with Estella, and my husband and I decided to make a trip to Estella’s home in Chihuahua, Mexico. We found her parents’ house in Chihuahua and the church too. I spent a lot of time visiting with her mother in Spanish. I actually wasn’t sure of my Spanish, but her mother thought my Spanish was great! I kept thinking I didn’t know a word, and then I would look it up and realize I already knew it and felt silly for looking it up. I learned that Estella had gotten married and didn’t tell me because she had married a Muslim, and she knew I wouldn’t approve because he had forced her into quitting church. She was married, and there wasn’t much I could do for her.
We enjoyed traveling in Mexico, and we learned a lot, so we did it again and again. I was always the translator. We often went to the border towns. We went to Monterrey. We went to the towns south of Padre Island, etc.
When I was working on my masters, I had to commute, and I felt like it was wasted time. I listened to a Spanish radio station and kept a pen and paper handy. Every time I heard a new word that I had never heard before, I would find a way to write it down so I could memorize it. I met a woman who was studying to be a Spanish teacher at the school, so I thought it was a great time to practice my Spanish, but she couldn’t speak Spanish. She was convinced I should be the Spanish teacher instead of her because she couldn’t speak to me in Spanish.
After I got my masters degree, we moved to Abilene, Texas. At church, they announced that there was going to be a Spanish class, so I went. It was being taught by a Mexican elder. He came up to me after the first class and said, “You already speak Spanish. You don’t need this class,” but I wanted to be around Spanish. He told me they were going to start a Bible class in Spanish for people who could already speak Spanish, and he wanted me to attend the class. I gladly went. He borrowed my great Spanish book I had studied from and used it to teach the others how to speak Spanish. I learned that the other students in the Spanish Bible class had studied Spanish much longer than I had. They had all had 3 or 4 years of high school Spanish, but my high school had only offered two years. They knew a lot of things in grammar I didn’t know, and they taught me. We had conversations in Spanish about what we were studying. We put on skits in Spanish depicting Bible stories. We had a lot of fun! The class was taught by a guy who had been an exchange student in South America. I suggested to them that we needed to put a mission team together and go to Mexico, but none of them were game for it. They just liked playing with Spanish, and I liked it too.
After that, we went to Romania, and no one there spoke Spanish, but my Spanish knowledge helped me to speak Romanian. After Romania, we went back to Ohio. I was teaching at a big prestigious university, but someone from the smaller Christian university called me up and said, “I heard you speak Spanish,” and I confirmed it. They asked me to come and teach Spanish at their university. I explained to them that, yes, I could speak Spanish, but I had no college hours in Spanish and was not a Spanish teacher. They said it was okay because they had this class that needed teaching, but no one could do it. They talked me into it. I began teaching Spanish at a university, but my only formal education in Spanish was two years in high school. My husband made me quit that job and go to Japan, and then he hated Japan and left me in Japan with the kids taking all the money.
After I came back from Japan, I went to Texas. I was looking for a job, any job. I was offered a job teaching high school Spanish at a private school, and I took it. I became a high school Spanish teacher. I was, again, teaching students who were supposedly on a higher level in Spanish than I was, but they couldn’t speak Spanish, and I could. I taught everyone to speak. I saw it fruitless to learn a lot of grammar, but never be able to speak. I took the Spanish 3 students out of their complicated Spanish book and began just having conversations with them in Spanish in class. They loved it because they didn’t realize they could speak Spanish, but they could. I attended a group down at the library in Granbuy that was made up of people who just wanted Spanish conversation, and some of my students ended up going there too. They were enjoying speaking Spanish as much as I was.
That school was crazy, and I don’t want to go into it, but I left that school and went to teach English as a Second language in Dallas. I got myself into another crazy school. It was a charter school, and if I was going to remain, I needed a Texas teaching certificate, so I began working on getting a Texas teaching certificate in the evenings. None of my students’ parents could speak English, and none of the teachers could speak Spanish. However, the teachers wanted to talk to the parents. Teachers would grab me and have me stand at the door of their classrooms when the parents came to get their students and ask me to translate for them.
My dad was trying to learn to speak Spanish. He could read novels in Spanish and was watching a lot of TV in Spanish, but hadn’t mastered Spanish conversation. He used to invite me over just to practice Spanish conversation with me. I really enjoyed it! He saw my Spanish/English New Testament, and he wanted one. For Christmas, I got him a whole Bible that was Spanish/English, but he still liked my New Testament better, so I ended up giving it to him. I had a friend who was a Mexican Spanish teacher, and she saw me using the Spanish/English New Testament and told me that I needed to get out of it and use an all Spanish Bible, so I listened and got myself an all Spanish Bible. My son was studying Spanish too. He liked it and wanted to speak, so he and I would read the Spanish Bible together and talk about it in Spanish. He was the only student in high school Spanish who could actually speak Spanish.
I was having trouble paying for my teaching certificate, so I was afraid I couldn’t continue teaching ESL in Texas because my school was going to become a public school, and I was commuting two hours to school and back. I got several random e-mails from overseas asking me to come and teach English for them. I ended up choosing the one that brought me to Korea. When I first came here, my son came with me, and we were still reading the Bible together in Spanish and discussing it. He actually considered becoming a Spanish major at school too, but ended up as a Math major. Now, he is a Spanish speaking Math teacher.
There is no one to speak Spanish to in Korea, but sometimes, I read my Spanish Bible. I don’t need a dictionary to understand it. We are thinking about going back to America. We will probably go to Oklahoma, just north of Texas, I have been told a lot of Mexicans have moved into Oklahoma, so perhaps they will be needing my Spanish there again. Perhaps we can take trips into Mexico again too. I have to wait and see.