Patsy Pridgen

Patsy Pridgen

Monday is just for Español

By Patsy Pridgen
Life Columnist

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We’re a motley crew: different ages, races, male and female, some employed and others retired. What we have in common is that we all want to learn a language we quite frequently hear spoken around us these days. Thus, we are Monday night students in conversational Spanish at Nash Community College.

There are five of us. Our prior knowledge of Spanish ranged from none to some. We are taught by our charming instructor, a senora originally from Venezuela. She has been in the United States for more than 20 years, and her English is mucho better than our Spanish.

It’s a continuing education class, which means we get either an S or a U grade, based on attendance. Thus, there’s no pressure other than to show up for class. No written tests – conversational Spanish, remember. I don’t think anyone is in the class to become certified in anything or to check off a course needed for a degree. It’s all about learning, pure and simple.

We can study and do the homework if we feel like it. I, for one, do. My last Spanish class was more than 40 years ago, so of course I have forgotten just about every word of Español I ever learned. I keep hoping that all that vocabulary I once memorized in my three Spanish courses from college days will somehow miraculously surface in that ocean of clutter that is my brain these days. Some of what I’m studying does seem a little familiar.

Not that I was fluent when I finished Spanish III in 1974, but I remember feeling I was on the cusp of understanding the language. However, I wasn’t taught the dialect of Spanish I now overhear in the aisles of the supermarket. I was drilled in the formal “Buenos Dias, como esta usted?” (“Good morning, how are you?”) Castilian Spanish instead of the “Hola, amigo” (Hello, friend), the Latino/Hispanic version.

The Spanish I’m learning now is more fun.

“You don’t have to be perfect,” our instructor said. “If you can’t remember the word for eleven is ‘once,’ then say ‘diez y uno’ (‘ten and one’).”

Works for me. She’s not opposed to a little bit of Spanglish either, noting that many Hispanic Americans blend the languages, saying “trucko,” for example, for truck.

We laugh a lot in class. Our teacher tells us funny stories in Spanish – for example, how frustrated she was over a mix-up with her young son catching his afternoon school bus (el autobus) or how she freaked out when she once saw a giant cockroach (la cucaracha) in her shower. She makes us feel better about our mistakes in Spanish by recounting some of her faux pas when she learned English.

Will I be fluent in Spanish once this class ends in March? ¡Imposible! But it’s been a start to learning a language spoken by more than 38 million people living in the United States. And I’ve enjoyed meeting a fun group of estudiantes (students) who, like me, are in school just for the love 
of learning.

Patsy Pridgen is a retired community college English instructor. She can be reached at patsy.pridgen@gmail.com.