Learning Spanish: The New American Way

I’ve only just gotten back from a brief vacation, and already, it feels like home I’m coming back to. After unpacking and getting resettled into my life. Ingrid pops in the kitchen, “Hey, do you want to go to an SSL class?”

Yes, that’s right. You read correctly. SSL. Spanish as a Second Language.

Do I want to go to a Spanish as a Second Language Class? “Yes. Absolutely.”

And so we went. The idea had originally come from JB, a close friend of the Blackburn House. JB is a carpenter (who helped to install the windows at Blackburns’ Chapel). He also lives in Bradford Park in Boone, NC. Bradford is a notoriously mixed community that houses many immigrants. Many who live there are on or below the poverty line. JB lives there intentionally to connect with the youth. As Ingrid explained to me, one of the things he noticed was the language line. Many of the kids grow up with an American mom and a Hispanic father. Kids go to school all day listening to English. When they come home, their mother speaks English to them. Their parents communicate with a mixture of English and Spanish phrases, but the kids and the mothers are not fluent. As JB says, these kids are labeled as “brown” or “Mexican” from birth, but they only know a handful of Spanish. Half of their family makes fun of them for not knowing the language. They feel ashamed, and it’s hard to learn in a setting when you’re ashamed of something that others feel like should be second nature to you. SSL or SFL (Spanish as a Foreign Language, as it’s officially called) is very needed in a supposedly dominant Hispanic atmosphere. There are many ESL classes offered. However, beyond what’s offered at ASU and Caldwell Community College, there’s community provided Spanish classes.

“Believe me,” said JB at the meeting, “I’ve looked.”

We were sitting in a circle in Bradford Park in a house for the Lighthouse Ministries. All kinds of people were there. In the background, a couple of kids were playing in a back room. They were the children of one of the mothers there. Most people came from the community. There was a Colombian man who taught ESL classes, but with his crazy work schedule it looked like he would be unable to do Spanish lessons too. This is why Ingrid and Jenna (an ASU senior). Both had a formal education background in Spanish. One woman ran the Lighthouse ministries house and wanted to be able to talk with families who came in. Another woman, perhaps the most eager, was in rental management. “The way I look at it,” she said, “I don’t speak Spanish, but they don’t speak English. Why should I expect them to learn my language if I don’t know theirs?” A pretty amazing woman, considering she defies the normal stereotype of the American. It was funny too, because as she said, “I’m as country as they come. The only two words I know in Spanish are Cevase and La Casa.” In other words, “beer” and “the house.” Besides JB, there were two other women. Both were mothers who had mixed kids. One woman was pretty fluent in Spanish but simply didn’t know the correct verb forms. These women were eager to learn. Everyone was excited. As far as we knew, this had never been done before.

Which, if you think about it, is really sad. Spanish is one of the most frequently spoken languages across the world. In fact, after a ten second google search, Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language, after Mandarin Chinese. Yes, Spanish, not English, is the second most commonly spoken language in the world. You can scrap the argument about how important English is compared to Spanish, because there are 405 million Spanish speakers in the world as opposed to the 360 million English speakers. Besides Brazil (where I believe they speak both Spanish and Portuguese), an entire continent speaks Spanish. Not to mention Central America, our Southern neighbors. Most other countries have are already bilingual speaking both English and another language. With the frequent number of immigrants every year, it makes you wonder why we’ve been slow on the uptake. Spanish is offered as an elective but it’s not expected. Why can’t take the view that one woman had? If we’re going to expect other people to learn our language, we should probably learn theirs.

Of course it’s going to be hard. It will be a little awkward and uncomfortable, but if we’re going to live in a nation called “land of the brave,” we should be brave enough to at least attempt to be bilingual. I’ve had plenty of opportunities growing up to take Spanish in high school and in college. I’m only now just getting to the language. Being bilingual is great for the brain. It’s better than the crossword puzzle or sudoku, and it’s like riding a bike, you never really forget it. I can’t promise that I will be bilingual by the end of this, but I’ve got to try. If you’re interested in learning Spanish, let us know at the Blackburn House. We’d love to carpool with you. The lessons are free and happen every Tuesday at 6-7pm. Contact Ingrid Forsyth (or Prof. Forsyth) at forsythin@email.appstate.edu.

Adios por ahora! I’ll keep you updated about Spanish in the future.

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