On hating Spanish, and then not

I’ve always hated Spanish. Really. I loathed the three years of Spanish that I had to take growing up for a while in public school; not because the teacher was bad (in fact, she was quite good), but because I just had zero interest in it. The only Spanish I ever heard was spoken by poor uneducated migrant workers. A few that I knew were members of the Crips gang, which was prominent in the next town over. I didn’t like the little bit of Latin music I had heard on the radio. I didn’t like how it had so many syllables. I thought it was stupid. I was glad when I didn’t have to study it any more. I forgot most of it.

Now, fifteen years later, I find myself today standing in the kitchen, reading the Spanish translation of an instruction manual and realizing that it’s actually pretty cool. I’m surprised at how much of it makes sense or how much of it I remember. I find the nuance in meaning from the different vocabulary to be a worthwhile mystery to solve. I find myself thinking it would be fun to learn. What changed? And why did I hate it so much the first time?

A few thoughts:

1. My only exposure, both in real life and in class was to spoken, conversational, colloquial Mexican Spanish. That was not (and still is not) interesting. But the world, it turns out, is a huge place and I only knew one little corner. There are all manner of countries and cultures that speak it. A multitude of religious and scholarly works are there too. Now we’re talkin’.

2. It turns out I do much better if I can see what’s going on. I think if I had been taught to read Spanish instead of being forced to conjugate verbs out loud in little role-playing scenarios, I might have taken in a lot more. I’m not saying other people would have, but I think *I* would have.

3. I may not have found Mexico particularly intriguing, but Spain, it turns out has a rich and fascinating history. As I read more history of Europe, the Church, and Latin America, I keep bumping into Spanish in new contexts.

4. By chance, four different books I’ve read in the past couple years have turned out to be English translations from Spanish authors. What are the odds of that? This includes The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Club Dumas and The Nautical Chart by Arturo Perez-Reverte, and even Raising Abel, a theology book by the very English Oxford-educated James Alison, who, nevertheless, wrote the book in Spanish while living in Chile.

5. At a brief workshop I attended last year given by the Boston Camerata, singer Anne Azema presented a wonderful piece of music in an old dialect of southern Spain. Very moving.

6. I remember sitting in a cafe a couple years ago and listening to two people talk in a beautiful-sounding tongue. It took me a while to realize it was, in fact, Spanish. How different it sounded from the accent of my childhood.

7. The difficulty of trying to learn some Amharic has made Spanish seem quite easy by comparison!