Much to the disappointment of my mother, in high school I took Latin and Ancient Greek. She wanted me to learn Spanish, which makes sense because my dad and his side of the family speaks Spanish. I wanted to learn Latin, because I liked the idea of learning a foundational language. Theoretically, learning Latin would help me learn any Romance language, including Spanish, more efficiently.

But now I’m taking Spanish (my mom has forgotten most of hers), and I’m starting to have some difficulty. I tested into Spanish 201 by using the Duolingo app, so I don’t have as much of a grounding in the basics of some verb forms as I’d like. And I’ve never taken a college level Spanish class before so I don’t know if my class is typical or not. We don’t use the (expensive, online only) textbook very much at all, and though the class is supposed to be conducted solely in Spanish, the instructor breaks down multiple times a class into English either because she doesn’t know the Spanish or the class is looking at her with baffled incomprehension on our faces.

Also, and I write this knowing I have a history of being annoyed by the verbal tics of instructors, she uses the English word, “kay” a lot (short for okay), which confuses the heck out of me because it sounds just like the Spanish word, “que.”

I do well enough on the tests and homework assignments, but I cannot seem to have a conversation with anyone in Spanish without stammering, hesitating, and losing track of what we’re talking about. I hear one unfamiliar word and lose everything after. Or I can’t understand someone’s accent, or I just don’t know the words that I want to use, or how to express what I want to express.

I have to translate what I’m saying before I say it. I have to translate what others are saying before I understand it. And I don’t know how to get past that.

The present subjunctive wasn’t too hard to learn, but the imperfect subjunctive is formed using the third person plural of the preterite. And I’ve never, ever learned the preterite. I’ve barely even heard of it.

So I’m simultaneously frustrated and excited by class at this point. There’s so much that I don’t know and it bothers me. But as I continue to work with Duolingo, I can see what I’ve learned by rote using the app starting to make sense with what I learned in class. If all I had to do was translate, like with Latin, then I’d be doing fine.

But Spanish is a living language, and I’m being evaluated not only on how well I can write or read it, but also on how well I can speak and listen to it. I’m trying to find that switch in my brain to start myself thinking in Spanish, but I don’t know where it is or how to flip it.

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