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MEXICO CHALLENGE Day 5 (to speak or not to speak)

Armed with tickets to the ballet, I loaded the bus for Mexico City yesterday morning. For the General Admission price, I was able to get four tickets in a private balcony near the stage. I had talked to some friends beforehand about going, but when I talked to them again yesterday, they said “maybe”. It’s getting to be the end of our term and as of today, we only have seven days before we’re back in the States. As the day went on and I heard more about all the papers they had due within the next few days, the “maybe” slowly changed into a “no”. With only a few hours left before the curtain call, I was buzzing around trying to find someone who wasn’t bogged down with papers for the night. No luck. I tried asking my host family as soon as I got home, but they were already busy. A little discouraged, I made my way to the theater 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin and still had no idea what to do with the extra tickets.  I arrived with only a couple of minutes to spare and was looking around for someone to share my tickets with, but most people had already been seated.  Right at 8, just as the performance was starting, three women walked in and started talking to each other right outside of the taquilla. I seized my opportunity and asked them if they had already purchased tickets. It was the start of a night I’ll never forget.

I told them about how I had three extra tickets and if they would like them, I wouldn’t charge them anything… it would just be a shame to waste them. They reluctantly agreed at first, but when we sat down I could tell they were excited (and so was I!). During the intermission, we introduced ourselves and I told them that I was from Chicago and studying at one of the schools in town through my university. They were all teachers at secondary schools (high school) in town. Gabi taught Spanish, Olga taught History and Sara taught English. They asked me again about the tickets and I explained how my friends were interested, but because we only had a few days left in Mexico, our classes kept us very busy.  I am lucky enough to only be taking a History class while I’m here, so I only have one paper to write (as opposed to most people’s three or four) (ps, I’m almost done collecting research for my paper!). Before the lights dimmed to start the second half of the performance, they invited me to coffee. :-)

After the ballet, I walked with the girls to a restaurant with loud music and people dancing in the street outside. Viva Salsa! We wove our way through the crowd and found a table. I started talking with them about different things such as what I do in school, what I’m doing here in Mexico and what I think of it so far. We talked a bit about the ballet (they knew one of the dancers!) and while Olga was off dancing, I talked with Sara about what she does as an English teacher.

Sara told me that she thought it was wonderful that I was putting myself out there and speaking Spanish and how she wished more people would try to understand a language other than their own. She said she thought it was terrible that the secondary schools only dedicated 3 hours a week to English classes and she wished that they would put a stronger emphasis on second languages. When I asked her about all of the bilingual schools I had seen in town, she clarified that those were private schools. The public schools were much less thorough. I explained how we had a similar situation in the US with public high schools (depending of course, on where you live). From what I can understand about the public school system, most foreign language practice starts in high school. As was the case at my small town school, only two languages were offered and we only had that class three days a week (albeit, for about an hour and twenty minutes). I personally have had a different experience with Spanish.

My mother’s side of the family is Puerto Rican and I always tell people that I heard it growing up, but I’ve never been able to speak it very well. I basically understood the commands (sit down, be quiet, listen, etc.) and not much beyond that. I’ve also moved several times and have attended at least three private schools that tried teaching us Spanish. The only problem with that is even though I started early (about second grade), every time I changed schools, the classes would start with the most basic knowledge and I never advanced far enough to truly understand the language beyond basic greetings and lower level vocab . This happened again when I attended public high school, so in essence, my knowledge and practice of the Spanish language (the slightly more advanced understanding of it anyway), came from what I learned in high school. Going into college, I realized I knew way less than I thought I did. You would think that someone with as much experience with Spanish as I did would test into a higher level, but here’s my confession of the day: I only tested into 103.

I took 200 level Spanish my freshman year because I knew I could handle it, but how had my previous schooling prepared me? It didn’t, at least, not really. There was never a big emphasis placed on foreign languages in my schooling and it wasn’t until I arrived in Ecuador that I truly felt the full force of that discrepancy. Some of you might remember my frustrated post a while back about my inability to communicate with my host family in Ecuador? Well I would like to proudly state that any previous mention of dialog in this post was a very close translation of my actual conversations IN SPANISH! (Yay!!). I completely owned the Spanish language last night. I used the Past Perfect Subjunctive (correctly) without a second thought and I had to pause in the middle of my speech to comprehend where it had come from and why it came so easily. Not only that, but I was able to completely understand their conversations (even over the loud music) and I could joke around with them. Liz finally came through.

After talking with Sara, I realized that my ability to communicate with them had nearly nothing to do with my formal schooling. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly helped with the technical structure; but what really got me talking was talking itself. I may have “learned” Spanish on paper, but until this trip, I’ve never had a good opportunity to speak it and practice it. In high school I made Spanish Honor Society on paper, but I still lacked the skills necessary to speak the language and understand it. I’ve always told people that I took a year off from Spanish classes because I hated taking a language in the basement of a building and never using it and it’s true. I never got to use the skills I was supposed to be developing and that was what bugged me most about foreign languages in school. Especially in high school, there was never a big emphasis on speaking and as a result not only did I not do it, but as I found out in Ecuador, I really couldn’t.
I explained a much shorter version of all this to Sara and we both agreed that public schools needed to take it a step further than they already were.
The rest of the night was spent trying to convince the girls that I was no good at dancing salsa (which I proved in one song); but that didn’t stop them from picking out partners for me. “Se depende en el hombre” It depends on the man; and they were right. It only took the right partner for me to be spinning and grinning through the whole song. I even got dipped at the very end.
I returned home last night, very satisfied with my speaking (and dancing!) abilities and I was still feeling so excited about the night, that I woke up my roommate back at Augie and told her about it (sorry, Stephanie!). Overall, I’m really glad things didn’t work out the way I had planned because that opened up a whole new opportunity I might have otherwise missed. Espero que tengas un buen dia!

One Response to “MEXICO CHALLENGE Day 5 (to speak or not to speak)”

  1. I was glad you did wake me up. I got to hear all about your exciting adventure before anyone else did. :D

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