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Yendo a La Escuela Con Los Jóvenes

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
December 10, 2008

Okay, first, I have to point out the irony.

In my long-way-around pursuit of a college degree, I took classes part-time for four years and then stopped, mostly because—and this is the ironic part—I thought I was too old.

I was 27.

Which just goes to show how perspective changes as we get older.

Now, at double that age, I’ve decided to utilize my free tuition benefit and try to learn Spanish. I’d taken the required two semesters during the last push for my degree some 10-plus years ago but didn’t know how to say much more than “¿dónde está el baño?” or “quiero una cerveza.”

Still, I remembered enough to conjugate verbs in the present tense: hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos, habláis and hablan. And that words ending in -a, -ción, -sión, -dad and -tad were usually feminine.  I even remembered that día was one of the exceptions to that rule.

But I knew I wasn’t ready (yo no estaba lista) for an intermediate class so 403/Review of Spanish seemed like the place to start.

That first day of class, I took a seat in the very back of the room not because I was embarrassed (see “how perspective changes” above) but so the kids wouldn’t be. Nineteen and twenty year-olds often know enough to be humiliated when adults don’t.

During the first few weeks of review when our professor, John Chaston (a muy fantástico profesor, by the way), would pair us up to ask each other things like where we were from (soy de Portsmouth), I would first say to the student, “I’m sorry you got stuck with the mom.”

It seemed easy (fácil) and I eagerly looked forward to class

Then we moved on to imperfect and preterit and conditional verbs and I knew I was in trouble. Heck, I had to stop and think about what those were in English and I’m a writer, for Pete’s sake. So, I’d spend all my time studying verb conjugation and forget about the vocabulary. Then we’d be in class talking about things we like to do and the kids would say things like “montar a caballo” or “patinar sobre ruedas” and I would go home that night and study the vocab.

Había mucho.

And then life kept happening. Things came up at work that took a lot of time so I’d miss a class here and there. When my daughter got sick, I missed a week. (When I talked to professor Chaston after class I wondered if I sounded just like the kids whose excuses were so transparent to me.)

I serve on a couple of volunteer boards and evening meetings started cutting into my studying time. Or my mother would call or my kids would stop by and I’d set the estudiando aside. And then it was November and I started making Christmas presents.

All this while trying to finish The Book (all writers are penning a novel, aren’t they?) by Christmas.

And study Spanish, too.

It’s made me feel inferior. Like I’m not living up to the adult learner stereotype. You know, the nontrad that drives los jóvenes loco porque they know the answer to every question and get A’s on every test.

That’s so not me.

Last week, six at a time, we had to go up to the blackboard and conjugate verbs. I sat in my back-of-the-class seat, feeling like an 18-year-old as I thought “don’t make me go up, don’t make me go up.”

But of course I had to. My charge was the preterit. The verb was ver; to see. I knew it, I did: vi, viste, vio, vimos, visteis, vieron. But I panicked. So instead I wrote “no sé” and the kids laughed and I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed.

At 18, I wouldn’t have gone back to class.

Which made me realize that learning is exactly the same whether you’re 18 or 27 or—older. All that matters is that you are learning. That you are exposing yourself to new ideas. That you are gaining new knowledge.

Because, as the saying goes, usted nunca es demasiado viejo para aprender.


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