I started taking French in 5th grade in an early-morning enrichment program offered through my elementary school.  If you can believe it, the program didn’t even offer Spanish; it was French or nothing.  That a school program that could only afford to offer one language would choose French instead of Spanish is sort of amazing to me- the world hasn’t changed THAT much in the past 20 years, has it?  If one had been paying attention, couldn’t one have foreseen that Spanish, (a language that is spoken at home by over 28 million people in the US according to the 2000 census) would be the more useful choice?  (To provide some point of comparison, the 2000 census estimates that slightly fewer than 2 million people in the US speak French at home.)

My mother, I think, dreamed of having daughters who grew up studying French the way young ladies in Jane Austen novels grow up studying French (and learning to play the pianoforte, and doing needlework, and taking a turn about the room.)  It seemed romantic to her.  She imagined that one day my sister and I would take trips to Europe and drive around in cheaply-purchased used Volkswagens and meet cute European boys, just like she had done with her best friend upon her graduation from college.  Though I took a mandatory 6-week minicourse in Spanish in middle school, I don’t think I ever really had a choice about what language I would take going forward- I continued with French through high school, and then took some courses in college and studied abroad in Paris as a junior.

Turns out, I kind of have a knack for languages.  I speak much better French than I rightfully should for how little effort I put into my French studies growing up.  When I travel to a francophone country, I slip fairly effortlessly into speaking in French, and feel comfortable communicating with locals.  I can get myself out of scrapes.  (Remind me to tell you the funny story about the time I went off on a shady French guy who was trying hard to persuade me and my friend (both a little drunk) to go home to his apartment to look at his posters.  I didn’t know I knew how to say “holy crap you are such a cliché and even if we did trust you we would not go home with a guy who can’t come up with a better line than that” in French until it was out of my mouth and we were walking away from him.)

Now I’m not knocking French- I LOVED studying in Paris and like visiting France and generally enjoy any culture that can strike over the arduousness of a 35 hour work week and get that excited about cheese- but MAN do I wish I’d taken Spanish. If I had that kind of familiarity in Spanish?  Oh my god it would be AWESOME.

I have long lamented my lack of Spanish skillz,  and my wish for Spanish is in full force again after having spent last week on a team visiting a dual language elementary school.  Most of the students speak Spanish at home, and at least half the day (and substantially more than that in the lower grades) is taught in Spanish. The theory behind the program is that teaching literacy skills in the native language first will actually improve a child’s chances of learning to read effectively in English.  Setting aside for the moment debates about bilingual education (don’t particularly want to dip my toes into that particular cesspool of vitriolic debate in this little blog post) this school was just awesome.  Being there was awesome.  I have a reasonable familiarity with Spanish having taught for a few years in a place where Spanish and not English was the dominant language, and I was pleased as punch to discover that I actually understood most of what was happening, even in those classes that were being taught in Spanish.  (It was also nice to discover that as much as I loved being around the kids- which I really really did- I didn’t find myself wishing to be classroom teacher again.  This is progress, since for the first two years of law school I wished I were back in the classroom on a near-daily basis.  But I digress.) But when a little second grader came up to me and asked me a question in Spanish?  All I could really come up with was “lo ciento, mijo, no hablo español, hablo francés.”

Can I really blame him for looking at me like I was an alien?

How sketchy would it be, exactly, to look for a Spanish language speaking partner on craigslist?  Anyone out there want to teach me Spanish, perhaps?  Any other suggestions of how I might improve my Spanish without shelling out hundreds of dollars to a language school?  Because seriously, to do the kind of work I want to do with my law degree, Spanish can only help.  Francés? Not so much.