"It's like they just open up your head and POUR the language in! Really, I was never very good with languages in school, but this is different!"
Famous-last-words from the woman at the State Department recruiting event in Seattle in 2009 regarding the FSI language program. After Tim and I heard the panel of FS Officers and Specialists speak, I was already hooked, but this woman's comments about the ease in which any type of language is imparted to the otherwise linguistically-clumsy, sealed the deal for me. This was the life for me.
Flash-forward two years and I'm in class with three other seemingly intelligent FS employees absolutely murdering BIG numbers in Spanish. Numbers like 34,596,421.
"Three-ty and four of million, five hundredy nine thousand and sixty four two one?"
After going around the table a few times with each of us sounding like the above, our up-until-then-patient instructor writes on the white board in a cartoon bubble at his mouth level:
(Someone kill me!)
At which point I start laughing so hard that I'm distracting the poor guy who's still trying to figure out how to say 578,432.
And yes, these are numbers I will have to learn because the exchange rate in Colombia is approximately 1800 Colombian Pesos to the dollar. So if I buy anything for, say, $150, I'm going to have to understand the number 273,600.
So that's how it goes in language class some days. Unfortunately the most recent of those days was my mid-course evaluation on Wednesday. I met with my LC (Learning Consultant, Learning Coordinator? Something like that.) She's a very kind and patient woman who has been assigned my case (it's nothing bad - we all have one) and will be my constant handrail as I change from instructor to instructor. She'll also be in charge of evaluating my progress and helping me prepare for The Exam which is currently slated for July 11.
Anyway, we spent over two hours the other day doing an exam run-through. First was the casual conversation where we do the "gettin' to know ya'" stuff. Where I'm from; where I used to work; what my husband does; do I have any kids etc... Fairly easy stuff. But then the tempo changes and it's time for the "presentation." This is where things start to get ugly. She offers me a list of five general topics and instructs me to select one and then compose a presentation on the topic of about 7-10 minutes in length. She'll leave the room while I prepare my thoughts. Oh, and I should use the imperfect tense. And the preterit. And of course the present, and future if I know it.
In five minutes. That should be plenty enough time, right?
WHAT? I can't choose my meal from a menu in five minutes!
She leaves the room as I diligently start to write my thesis statement. I then scramble to write two more sentences before the inevitable knock comes at the door.
"Are you ready?"
I'm fairly sure that my saying "NO!" at this point will only make her chuckle and pick up her pen and score sheet. Yeah, I'm right. Damn. I start with my opening sentence, and then the other two. And then I freeze. I'm standing beside a torrential river of thoughts with a tiny cup in my hand. They're whirling by so quickly that I can't grab even one. I stare out the window instead. I clear my throat. Please know that I am not one to be comfortable in silence, any bit of silence, and long, awkward gaps in conversation where one party is panicking and the other has the optimistic, "Yes? Do go on..." look on their face - well, it was the worst kind of silence.
"Yo no puedo construir mis pensamientos con claridad; disculpe me."
(I'm not able to construct my thoughts clearly; excuse me)
Then I just babble. I mean really babble. I use an example that is somewhat related. I use really strong, descriptive phrases like "...y otras cosas..." (and other things). I feel like that poor Miss Teen America who we all skewered on YouTube ("...like such as the South Africa...").
And then somehow it's over. We then do the reading part, where I miss some/all the key words in the article which take the slant of the article 180 degrees the other way.
So, what was the final outcome? Well, oddly, she felt that I was nearly a 2/2, which happens to be my target score. Nearly. She fills out a page that affirms that I'm making sufficient progress and should reach my 2/2 in my remaining five weeks of class. I'm rather shocked at the good news and chalk it up to a magical bribing fairy sneaking into the room with a fist full of bills while I was trying to get my heart rate out of the ceiling. We make plans to practice this stuff some more before I get to do it before the firing squad, errr, the examiners "for realsies." She politely suggests that I find a way to "control my nerves."
I'm still waiting for the "pouring" to begin.