Charni-jah Clarke

Spanish Illiteracy

My hatred of Spanish began on August 30th 2012, my official first day of college-level Intermediate Spanish. Everyone was in a pleasant mood, including me. The sun shone in the classroom, which created a positive energy. As I took my seat in the back, I inhaled the fresh air, eager to rejoin my wonderful journey with this language. When the professor arrived and began to speak, my mood turned from relaxed to frustrated. “¿Cómo te llamas?” she said.

I stared at my professor absent-mindedly as I tried to break down her question. In Spanish, “Como” means “How?” At least I thought so. My peers stared at me with curious eyes, waiting on my name, but the words just would not come out. Seconds later I spit out, “Charni-jah,” remembering “llamas” means name.

Professor Martinez looked at me as if she was expecting more. “Charni-jah, that’s a beautiful name, but how would you say that in Spanish?”

I stared back at her, this time with a knot in my throat. “How do I introduce myself in Spanish?” I kept asking myself. Seconds, which felt like hours, passed, and she kindly moved on to the next person. Everyone giggled as if I were not there. They probably thought it was a mistake for me to be in Intermediate Spanish, but it was not. In fact, it was far from a mistake, I had mastered the language, or so I thought, before arriving at college.

I was introduced to Spanish in junior high school—7th grade to be exact—although I never took it seriously. Spanishdict.com was my best friend. Whenever given homework, I always used this website, which translated English sentences into Spanish sentences. Up to this day, I am unsure if my teacher took note; if she did, she most likely did not care. However, cheating myself in class would later come back to bite me in freshman year of high school.

 In 9th grade, I cheated on the first homework assignment my teacher assigned. I used the Spanish translator to describe myself in five sentences: Mi nombre es Charni-jah Clarke. Yo soy de la Ciudad de Nueva York. Me gusta escribir poesía y pasar tiempo con mi familia y amigos. Tengo dos hermanas y un hermano menor. Me encanta mi vida.

I do not know how, but my teacher knew I had used a Spanish translator website. Perhaps it was a teacher’s intuition. The day the assignment was due, my teacher pulled me aside after class and gave me an ultimatum: either hand in my assignment and receive an “F” or rewrite the assignment without outside help. I reluctantly chose the second option. I explained to her that I was horrible in Spanish and that I would fail to make sense without using Spanishdict.com.

She simply smiled, “If you review your notes from this lesson, you will be fine.”

Annoyed by her optimism, I went home with a pessimistic attitude. Before I started on the assignment, I stared at the task for thirty minutes. After I realized that I was not getting anywhere with the assignment, I pulled out my notes and studied them for an hour. After reviewing my notes, I began to write. To my surprise, I enjoyed writing about myself in another language. When I went to Spanish class the next day, my teacher checked it and said “Great job.” That is when I realized I was capable of mastering Spanish.

By the time sophomore year of high school came around, I was engaged in the material. My teacher even began teaching the class in Spanish, and I understood every word. Going to Spanish class had felt like going to history, my favorite subject. “¡HolaProfessora! ¿Cómo estás?” is how I greeted her every day. When we did class work, she even appointed me to help others with the material we were learning. It felt great to help others in my class who struggled with this language. When junior year came, I was completely bathed in this language.

As a junior, my mastery of Spanish was increasing exponentially, to the extent where I could have survived months in a Spanish-speaking country. I even spoke to some of my friends in Spanish for fun. “¡Hola Ashley! ¿Qué haces después de la escuela?” Nothing intimidated me once it came to my confidence of knowledge in this language. I knew the conjugation rules for both regular and irregular verbs in the indicative mood, including the past, present, and future tenses. On the Spanish Regents, I breezed through it as I remembered the vocabulary, and conjugation rules. Now, it shocks me how much my knowledge of this language has shrunk.

Every day I walk into my college Spanish class, I distribute negative energy. My peers, who are mostly sophomores, are engaged in learning like I once was; they raise their hands, and laugh at mistakes my professor makes. I cannot help but envy them. I was once an excited insider to the language like them. However, because I have not taken Spanish since junior year of high school, I do not recall much. I cannot remember conjugations for regular verbs in the present tense, let alone conjugations for the past tense. Recently, when we reviewed past tense conjugations for both regular and irregular verbs, I slumped over my desk, annoyed. “How can I ever learn to love this language again?” I asked myself.

I wish I had continued studying Spanish after junior year. If I had done so, I would now be prepared for college Spanish. I have thought about dropping the course, but my Educational Opportunity Program advisor, Claire, has encouraged me to exhaust all my options, which includes getting a tutor and studying twice as hard. I have never been one to give up, so my goal is to satisfy my foreign language GE as soon as possible with this course and pass with at least a “B.”

But the truth is, I have lost my desire for learning the language. Spanish, my old love, has now become like chemistry, a class I hated in high school. I would have never thought I would end up in this predicament, no longer engaged in class and no longer able to join in with my peers’ laughter.