Thursday, January 19, 2012

Drinking the Spanish

You know what's so funny? When you're browsing for airline tickets on the web and you've got five different browser windows open and so when you think you're buying the one that departs your airport at 5:00 pm on the day you want to leave, which would be perfect, it actually turns out you bought the one that leaves your airport at 1:00. In the a.m. Hahahahahahahahahahaha kill me.

It's been that kind of a week so far.

What I was going to write about, before I got distracted by Horribly Bad Decisions, was learning, and learning styles, and subject matter, and how as doggedly and lovingly you may lead the horse to the fountain of, say, Spanish, you can't make it drink. Not even if you promise it 100 carrots for every semester it earns at least a B average in the class.

Once upon a time, Silas said, "WHY do I NEED to learn to ski?"
Which is another way of saying we got the middle school registration material last week and Silas has broken my heart by refusing to take a single semester of language, let alone the rigorous two-semester course that I have been holding in my head as the last best chance for him to learn Spanish. This has been been my dream since before he was born, that he (and my other as-yet unimagined children) would be given the gift of fluency in another language.

 I knew it would be tricky, since I am not fluent in another language myself, but I was optimistic in the way it's possible to be when you're pregnant and your child-to-be can be absolutely anything. And we began well: Silas had the great good luck (in the opinion of his parents) to go to kindergarten and first grade at a bilingual immersion school, and by the time we had to move (WEEPING), he had a pretty good understanding of spoken Spanish and an awesome accent. And, unfortunately, a lifelong distaste for the language itself and anything associated with it (even restaurants. For REAL. Oh my heart, you break again.)

Now he says, "What's the snow like?"
Nevertheless, I persisted in halfheartedly trying to Keep the Spanish Alive in his head, if not his heart. And I tried not to be too much of a pushy parent about it: he hated it. I got that. Nevertheless, you don't let a kid not learn to read just because it's hard and he doesn't like it, right? You keep at it. So I kept at it.

And here we are: his first chance since first grade to take a real Spanish class,  in which he might actually learn something, and LO. The forces of darkness have won out and he is opting for art/PE instead.

Unless the 100 carrots a semester move him (and they might. That's a pretty good deal for a kid who earns $5 for mowing the lawn).

Meanwhile, I have been forced to do a little parental soul searching. Back when Si was prekindergarten and we were on tenterhooks about the school lottery chances, I asked myself where I wanted him to go with this. I knew that teaching him a foreign language could easily have the consequence of raising a child who moves to Chile the first chance he gets and never comes back. Ouch. But I could live with that, I told myself, if he was fluent.

I also asked myself a harder question: if he, knock on wood, god forbid, nononono, did not live to be an adult, would I regret him not learning Spanish? And the answer to that was no. Not in the way I'd regret it if he never went camping or never read The Hobbit or never saw the Midwestern woods in spring. Spanish is a skill I want him to have as an adult--and now that I'm out of the fanaticism of pregnancy, I am able to admit that there are many ways to become fluent. Yeah, it's great if you learn it as a child. But I know plenty of fluent adults who did not learn the language(s) of their fluency until they were young adults (or even not-so-young adults). 

Which brings us to deeper parental soul searching. such as: what do we decide to teach our kids, anyway, and how important is it that they Follow the Plan?

For example, we teach kids to swim (even if they haaaate the water) so they don't drown. We teach them to read and do math so that they can earn a living. We teach them how to make baklava because it is delicious (if you like honey, that is. And nuts.). Learning Spanish falls somewhere between learning to read and learning to make baklava. And, I guess, it's like learning to swim, on the odd chance that you get kidnapped by Catalinian pirates and your only hope of survival is to overhear their whispered conversations about where the escape hatch is.

Yes, learning another language is an Important Part of a Good Education. Essential, even. And so often neglected. But...there is an element of personal taste (honey and nuts? what if you prefer lemon?), not to mention the ever so tiny issue that it's actually impossible to be really fluent without sufficient motivation to open your mouth and communicate with somebody else. (That was the beauty of the immersion school. The motivation was built in.)

So, for the unmotivated student (which we most certainly have)...what, really, is the best way to ensure he learns to speak?

I'm not sure--I'm thinking something along the lines of extensive travel/ living in another country, preferably by himself-- probably it isn't sitting in a class for 38 minutes a day learning hablo hablas habla.

Sigh. That's really hard for me to admit, especially since the chances of him going off to live in another country by himself anytime soon are slim to negative 15. And I still think that the chances of him becoming fluent in another language are greatly increased if he takes some actual Spanish classes. But--oh, ow, sadness--if he decides to not to, it is not the end of the world.

Science project. Involves projectiles, naturally. Too bad they don't offer Spanish PE.
The evening I came to this realization, with a heavy, heavy heart, I was reminded about how Silas does learn. It's not by memorizing verb endings--routine rote memorization, the backbone of my own educative process, is not really in his repertoire. No. He and M. were putting together our new IKEA shelves and he was talking through the process, noticing when where there needed to be screws or reinforcements, figuring out what each little piece did, and describing it all (and noticing immediately when something wasn't working or there was some minute piece missing or mis-set). He learns by doing, and he learns by solving problems to which he wants to know the answer. If learning Spanish were to enable him to solve a problem to which he wanted to know the answer, he'd learn it. He'd curl up on the couch moaning every 45 minutes or so, but he'd learn it.

So my mission, if I choose to accept it, is to devise a problem to which the answer is: learn Spanish.

Perhaps I can arrange for him to be kidnapped by Catalinian pirates.

Helen's latest photo series: the Rockies fans among us.
At the very least, I can try to cultivate in him a sense of his own adventurousness, so that when I casually say, his junior year in high school or so, that eh, he really probably wouldn't want to do a year in Costa Rica or anything, he can break in with an indignant, "Of COURSE I want to spend a year in Costa Rica! I'm adventurous!"

Adventurous like taking the overnight plane through Charlotte just because. It's an adventurrrrr.

1 comment:

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Well, Mom... reverse psychology might need to come into play with this one. The more you push the more he'll dig in his heels.

But, all is not lost! You can teach him how to can veggies. You're the winner of that Yes! You Can! book giveaway from last week. :)

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