Tonight was my first Spanish class at Community College of San Francisco. I approached it with some trepidation. It’s been years since I learned a language and I’m worried that part of my brain is rusty. But trying to manage the grape harvest last fall using just my vaguely-remembered Latin and a lot of hand signals convinced me that I needed to master at least the basics. However, I’m starting to have second thoughts about trying to do it in the accelerated summer session where a semester’s worth of learnin’ is crammed into six weeks.
It took awhile for the jury to decide whether I’d made the right move on this.
Class is Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6PM to 10PM! Not good if it cuts into my Law & Order nights.
Instead of being held on the main campus, my class was convening at one of the local middle schools, a Mission Revival baroque fantasy that wouldn’t look out of place in Alhambra. Good. I’m all for setting the scene.
As we students took our seats and started introducing ourselves there were a suspicious number of people with last names like Gonzalez, Ortega and Munoz. Mucho unfairo. This is supposed to be Bonehead Beginning Never Even Ordered a Taco in Spanish Class.
Luckily, I had loaded a Conversational Spanish program on my iPod.
The professor walked in and he was German! German? There’s no German in Spanish. Well unless we’re talking Laurence Olivier as an escaped Nazi torturing Dustin Hoffman. This didn’t seem good on any level.
Luckily Senor Hahn quickly proved himself to be exactly my kind of teacher — one who sprinkles the subject with lots of trivia and humor.
By the end of the second hour, I could hold an excruciatingly polite conversation with a Spanish speaking native. Well, if that native followed exactly the script I learned:
Buenos tardes. (Good afternoon.)
Como esta Usted? (How are you?)
Muy bien, gracias. Y Usted? (Very well, thank you, and you?)
Muy bien. (Very well).
Como se llama Usted? (What are you called?)
Me llamo ____. (I’m called ____.)
Then I had a choice of two possible answers:
Mucho gusto! Which means “much pleasure”. (And here I always thought that was something you said after a really good enchilada.)
Or I can say Encantada. Which means, Enchanted. That makes me feel as if I’m in a Spanish version of Pride and Prejudice. (And wouldn’t Antonio Banderas make a really good Senor Darcy?)
Then it was on to the alphabet where Herr…er…Senor Hahn taught us to remember the vowel sounds by imitating a donkey. I always thought donkeys said “Hee Haw” but apparently in Spanish speaking countries, donkeys say a e i o u.
To remember the burro-vowel connection, we even learned to say El burro sabe mas que tu. (A burro knows more than you.) Which is true, given that, less than an hour later, I’ve now completely forgotten how to pronounce the Spanish vowels.
But, cry my male readers, what about Salma Hayek? Yes well, apparently our text books are very up-to-date because they reference all sorts of Hispanic Pop Culture icons.
No wonder the professor was so insistent that we HAD to have the latest edition of the book. I imagine earlier versions may have referenced Carmen Miranda and Dolores Del Rio instead.
And the Dos XX? Well, in the course of learning the alphabet in Spanish, Senor Hahn told us that the beer was named Two Xs in 1900 after the Roman Numeral XX in honor of the turn of the century. Great, that sticks in my head but not those vowel sounds.
Wait, I’ve got my notes: ah ay ee oo ouuuu. Okay, say it fast. Does it sound like a donkey? If not, there’s only one thing I can say:
El burro sabe mas que tu!