No Hablo Español

Missoula, Montana

It’s a truth universally acknowledged (at least in the Northwestern US) that a student educated in the art of speaking Spanish will be ten million times more likely to use it, than one educated in French.

I made that statistic up.

But, if you are one of the masses of people who chose to take Spanish as your educational language in school, I salute you – I was not.

My entire life I felt pressured to pursue Spanish. In school, I remember there being three Spanish classes filled with students (all with waiting lists) while we – the poor French class students of America – could barely fill two tables in our classroom.

Perhaps I was a hipster even as a ten year old, but I just COULD NOT understand why people wanted to take Spanish. Speaking Spanish felt like denim in comparison to the velour of the words I was used to practicing and perfecting. I obviously don’t share the feelings now, but you have to understand that I was an extremely opinionated and stubborn child.

And, as most people in love, I was hell bent on defending the honor of my darling French language, any time it was brought into question  – which was often. I remember adults telling me it would be better for my future if I took Spanish classes. That it would look “good” on my résumé and that I would be able to better connect with “my culture”…wait, what? Yes, people thought I was Hispanic (I am not in any way, in case you were wondering). But that’s another story for another time.

The one time I actually attempted to try out a Spanish class, I was entirely disappointed. They said “que” and I pronounced it like it was supposed to be pronounced, “Kuh”. They said, “No, no, no, Emilee – QUE.” Yes, I don’t have a hearing problem, I remember thinking. And the second time I over pronounced it the French way, just out of spite.

It’s true, I was a brat of a child. I knew what I liked and was fiercely loyal to it. *Disclaimer: I am, in no way, claiming to have grown out of this.

Now that I’m older, I understand the importance of all languages, but I also understand the importance of sticking with what you’re passionate about. Should I have taken Spanish because it was something that “everyone” would use when they grew up? Maybe.

But, if I took a poll to see how many words my high school friends actually remember from their FOUR YEARS of studying, I’m pretty sure I would have great directions to the bathroom and know the person’s name.

See, while doing what is “practical” might seem like the right thing at the time, sticking with what I love is now proving so much more useful in my life.

I like to think of myself as an advocate of impractical thinking. I highly encourage doing the “impractical thing” in order to stay true to yourself (as corny as that sounds). Because, when it comes down to it, you are ultimately the person who lives with the shapes you are molded into. And you never know when, in your future, you might need a couple nonsensical skills. While French was seemingly impractical when I was growing up, knowing Spanish now, would be of little use to me while living in the countryside of France.

As a result of learning a language I was actually interested in, and wanted to learn, I dug deep into the language and actually LEARNED it. I was able to find my own identity and go down my own path; one that’s leading me to some pretty awesome places now that I’m an adult.

I’ll be the first to say that if there was enough time to learn every language, I would. I’m not devaluing any, Spanish or otherwise, in any way – but I will say that taking it for me would have been a mistake. Not because of what the language was, but because it wasn’t where my heart was.

In a perfect world I think all languages would be available in school systems so kids could really explore and see what stuck out to them. Right now, I live with one roommate who speaks Russian and another learning German, and I can’t help remembering that those languages weren’t even an option growing up. Why?

There’s going to always be a standardized educational system that provides what they believe is “best” for the students they are educating. But my challenge is that dark horses like me are allowed to thrive in an environment that might not be the common choice. Who knows how many linguists we’re missing out on by limiting the options of school languages!

Oh, and for all my Spanglish speaking friends – I adore you. But, don’t think I won’t remind you how “que” should really be pronounced.

Glasgow, Scotland

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