Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chapter Three: Language Training

I've titled this post "Chapter Three" feeling that Chapter One was our Specialist Orientation, Chapter Two was our OMS Training and now I've moved away from the security of my buddies and on to the next phase: twelve weeks of language training in which three unsuspecting native Spanish speakers will try - patiently please - to shape my Spanglish into the real deal. Real enough to answer calls and questions accurately and professionally in an embassy setting, that is.

(Sidebar: I learned on my first day that "Ambassador" in Spanish is "embajador," which to me just sounds like I'm saying it in English with a lisp; I'll get over it.)

So here we are: seven classmates in a room with our native Cuban instructor. Seven is a larger class than the language department seems to prefer, so they promise that we'll be shaken out into smaller groups soon enough; they want to get a feel for how we learn, what we know (and don't know) etc... Across from me sits a man who has a wife and newborn (six days old) at home. He doesn't sleep yet and is terribly afflicted by his allergies. Next to me is a friendly guy who's not shy at all about trying new vocabulary and, when in doubt, seems to be making up words that sound Spanish. He makes the teacher laugh often, but in a good way, and this reaction doesn't seem to slow him down. 

It dawned on me today that our group is clearly embodying the seven dwarves: the new dad is both Sleepy and Sneezy; Bashful is the reserved woman at the other end of the table who confided to me that the class was difficult for her; Doc sits at the head of the table with his good accent and knowledge of slang from working in Corrections, and I'm doing my best to be Happy instead of Dopey or Grumpy!

Ostensibly we'll be with the same teacher for one month before they cycle us through to another to help us learn via a different style and different accent. Our teacher speaks to us in Spanish probably 75% of the time, of which I understand also about 75%, better than I'd anticipated, actually. It's fun, and I keep reminding myself that the State Department is paying me a nice salary to learn a language; I owe it to them (and myself) to make the most of this opportunity. We have mas o menos four hours of language class per day, plus self-study time in the labs where we can access any one of a multitude of programs: flashcards, videos, tele-novelas, grammar quizes etc... So long as the person behind you isn't practicing conjugating Italian verbs WAY TOO LOUDLY while you're studying - it's great (hey dude, keep it down, will ya'?).

Speaking of which, I need to get cracking on my homework. Besides, I'm dying to find out if Sofia ever finds the long-lost wife of Senor Gomez whom she has tracked from Spain to Argentina. (She's getting so close... I can't stop watching now!)


  1. hehehe. Oh you made me giggle. Miss ya!

  2. I feel your pain/brain lock/frustration... I can imagine it's really hard and you're under a lot of pressure and it's normal to blow a gasket and have it affect other aspects of you. You'll get there - I have no doubt!
    So on another note - dude, I have a crew from Destinos coming to Calistoga in 3 wks! How crazy is that?