Learning a foreign language presents a paradox.
On one hand, it makes you feel like an imbecile because it reduces your language capabilities to those of a four-year-old. Take the following sentence:
“El gato de Juan se gusta comer los ratónes.”
It translates to “Juan’s cat likes to eat mice.”
At least I think it does.
The sentence makes me feel like an idiot because it took me three minutes to write, and I’m not even sure it’s written correctly.
On the other hand, learning a foreign language makes you realize how much you’ve already learned in your native tongue. Get your stopwatch ready for this next one:
“I don’t give a shit what Juan’s cat eats. I don’t care if he eats mice, fish or chicken. For all I care, Juan’s cat can eat a Big Mac, part of which lodges in his throat and kills him. The cat’s death causes Juan to become overly depressed and leads to his complete withdrawal from society. Juan dies years later, cold and alone.”
See? That only took me 30 seconds, and I didn’t even need a dictionary. It’s also about five times longer than the Spanish sentence.
So in English, I’m a damn genius.
During my first week and a half of Spanish lessons, each class somehow morphed into a house of horrors.
Topics we covered included incest, murder and pedophilia (in a discussion about the movie “Volver,”) the moral implications of genetic engineering (in a discussion about a couple who conceived a second child just to reap its organs for their first child) and September 11 conspiracy theories (thanks Loose Change, you assholes.)
These are all fascinating subjects. When you try to discuss them in a foreign language, however, you’re left sounding like a lobotomy patient.
“Umm…incesto…es…uh…umm…cuando…un padre…uh…mucho, mucho…gusta…uh…No soy un pedofilo?”
That’s four minutes of class down, only 236 to go.
Next, use “mas” or “menos” to explain the structural integrity of steel when it’s exposed to 500 gallons of burning jet fuel and the force generated by an American Airlines 737 flying at 475 m.p.h.
I’m having a few issues with my classmate. She’s been taking classes longer than I have, and it shows. I’m glad for her, but she’s impatient with me. There’s a lot of overt sighing and drumming of her fingers while I bumble through my various verb tenses. I get the feeling she thinks I’m a total moron.
She’s right, of course, but I do feel it’s rude of her to make her feelings known in my presence.
Still, I’m only a moron in Spanish. The Damn Genius in me feels confident he can correctly say, “If I hear your fingers again I’m going to break them off and feed them to you one at a time. Con gusto.”
We eat at separate tables in the cafeteria.