Learning another language runs deeper than just learning another language.
The reason we put our daughter in a Spanish immersion school is so that she would be bi-lingual. It’s a skill that not enough Americans have anymore, and we thought that by the time she’s in college, it would give her an advantage over all of the other middle-class white American girls. I think there is something to be said there, but that’s not really what this post is about.
What this post is about is how we, as parents, make plans and decisions to make sure our kids are ahead of the curve, cultured, developed, smart, successful. But what about us? What about those of us who are middle-class white American 30-somethings who didn’t grow up bi-lingual, who grew up in standard white American suburban city with standard public education and went to a standard 4-year university to receive a standard education and get a standard bill-paying office job…what about us? Why do we not work, plan, decide to get ourselves ahead of the curve? Sure, make the most for your kids, I get it. But why sit idly by watching our kids get smarter at 3 than we were at 8?
So my wife and I have been trying to practice our Spanish – to develop our already-set-in-stone 30-something brains. Wanting to keep ourselves, and of course always our kids, sharp.
I work with a number of Hispanic males, mostly from Mexico, and during my lunch break I try to sit with them at the table and just practice my Spanish. It is admittedly terrible, broken, stuttering Spanish with a horrible American accent – I can’t roll my R’s to save my life – but I make an effort. We were recently invited over for dinner by one of they guys that has now become a pretty good friend of mine. So, in the spirit of cultural openness and trying to stretch our tensing brains, we went.
At first, it was awkward for sure. Lots of confused looks. Lots of awkward pauses, lots of sideways glances between my wife and I as if to say, “did you get that?” But, our hosts were gracious and patient. After about 30 minutes or so, and a dinner of incredible homemade enchiladas verdes and charro beans, things started to move a little more smoothly. Phrases from ninth grade Spanish came back to me, words, long forgotten, renewed in my head - caminar, caminar, what the heck is camin…WALK! Not only does my 3-year-old daughter speak nearly fluent Spanish, she manages to make us seem almost illiterate! It was actually really funny.
In the end though, as we were leaving I told my wife thanks for going, because I knew she didn’t really want to go at first. But as we drove we continued to discuss how much we not only needed that experience, to help us practice our Spanish, but how much we really enjoyed it! Our hosts were amazing. Not only did they feed us, they played with our kids, we watched a little bit of the Mexico v. Jamaica Gold Cup final (Mexico was obviously who we were going for), and they treated us like long-time friends, almost family.
One thing I took away from that night was this: practicing my Spanish is not just helping me stay sharp mentally, but it reminds me that I can’t be such an arrogant, close-minded, judgmental, selfish American all the time. Learning another language runs deeper than just learning another language. It’s definitely a lesson in humility. It’s learning to listen, closely. It’s learning to be accepting, open, kind, gracious. It’s learning to be human.