At the Top of My Class

I woke up but dreaded getting out of bed. It wasn’t even light out but, more prohibitive even than the darkness that greeted me, was how cold it was! Temperatures have dropped here over the past month and, on top of that, we have discovered that our apartment becomes an ice box in the winter. But it was a big day and I had no choice but to get out of bed. Shivering, I grudgingly got up and took a shower. And then I waited for David to take his. He didn’t have to come with me, but, because he knew how nervous I was, he was accompanying me. I grabbed the notebook that David had found for me the day before, looked at the clock with dismay, and headed out the door. I was going to be late on my very first day.

As I quickly walked along the cobbled roads of the old town, David looked at me and laughed. He found it amusing that I was so worried about being late. For me, it was only natural. I didn’t want to make a bad first impression. And so I continued to scurry along, and, as we passed the church in the square at the top, the bells tolled 9:00. I should already be there, but, instead, I still had to reach the center of town at the very bottom of the hill. And so we raced along the streets that overall lead down but, at times, meander left and right. And then we were at the bottom and were soon arriving at the building. And then, much to my relief, we spotted a group of people in the lobby. Perhaps, I wasn’t late after all? Perhaps, things hadn’t yet begun?

It was my very first day of Spanish class, and, seemingly, I was right on time. The teacher was leading the group of students to the classroom, and David stopped him to tell him that I was new to the class. He looked at me and asked if I had studied Spanish before. “No, never,” David responded for me. I had enrolled in the basic course but apparently there weren’t enough totally beginner students to start a new class so they had put me in a higher level. The teacher looked doubtful. I chimed in (in Spanish) that I had lived in Spain for six months. That seemed to convince him and he waved me along. I could try out the class. Having safely delivered me to my new Spanish class, David left, and I went to join the 8 or so other students in the classroom.

Phase two of the test: oral examination in front of the class. The teacher asked me a series of questions. Where was I from, why had I come to Altea, how did I learn Spanish? And as I understood and answered each question in Spanish, my confidence grew and I elaborated, throwing in details about my in-laws and how they only speak Spanish and French. And, as I continued speaking, I noticed that my new Danish, Norwegian and Russian classmates were nodding in admiration and then they even started to say out loud how good my Spanish was. Really?! I was on Cloud 9 as I was showered with approval from my peers.

Since arriving in Spain, I hadn’t had a way of measuring my level of Spanish. But here, in a class that was already in session and, in fact, already halfway through the book, I could officially confirm that I was more advanced than basic. In fact, as I sat through the class, I understood more than most and assessed that I was one of the best in the group! And, as the hour drew to a close, the teacher looked at me and said that I could stay in the class. I had officially passed the test. I didn’t know what level this was, but it definitely wasn’t zero.

I left the room delighted with my progress and couldn’t wait to tell David about how well I had done. And, as I giddily told him everything, he smiled. He was proud of me. And when we arrived home, I spoke to him in Spanish to show him just how much I knew and I happily told him how I felt that the Spanish had started to click ever since we had returned from the US. And then I diligently sat down to do my homework, renewed with energy and motivation to learn this language once and for all and determined to remain one of the best in the class.

That was last Tuesday.

Then, over the weekend, we got invited to David’s aunt and uncle’s house for lunch. We went for lunch but ended up staying for two days. And, for two days, it was a conversation marathon and the Spanish words flowed and swirled around me until I couldn’t take it anymore. I had arrived, excited to show David’s family the progress that I had made, but I soon realized how little I really knew. It was the Vodafone experience when I couldn’t understand the lady and ended up getting disconnected from the internet all over again. I tried to concentrate on the sounds but, even when I could grasp several words, I couldn’t string them together to make sense of the sentence. I had to readjust to their accent and the speed at which they spoke and I got buried in new vocabulary as they excitedly made plans for one of my just-engaged cousin’s upcoming wedding – including who would come to the bachelorette party and what kind of strippers to hire – and the arrival of my other cousin’s baby and what she had bought so far in preparation and how the baby bump really starts to show at 7 months.

And, as David and I traveled on the 3 hour train and bus ride home, I plummeted from Cloud 9 and despairingly complained to David how hard it was to be with his family for such intense stretches of time. I was mentally exhausted.

And then I realized what a roller coaster learning a new language really is. It has ups and down and twists and turns. And all you can do is relish the up moments – those moments when you’re climbing high in the sky – so that you can survive those instances when it all comes crashing down.

In front of the Social Center where my Spanish class is

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18 responses to “At the Top of My Class

  1. I am sure your Spanish is way better than my Portuguese. Actually my Spanish is way better than my Portuguese. That helps when I am reading here, but when they speak it sounds nothing like it on paper. I am using the Rosetta Stone, but I would really like to take a class, just no time. I am sure your Spanish is enough to get by and it will improve with time. I could function in Spain, but not have full on conversations. Other languages are crazy. Good luck with your lessons.

    • Thanks for your encouraging words, Melinda! I was curious about Rosetta Stone and how effective it is. I have tried studying by myself at home, but I find that just having a class to go to really helps motivate me to focus on learning Spanish. Good luck on the Portuguese – I know that we’re sharing a very similar experience!

  2. I’m proud of you – and you’re definitely best in my class! (but I’m #2 this time!) Just remember: S-O-C-K-S, throw in a few ESTEs & you’ll be fine… or at least I’ll understand you!

    • Oh my goodness, Coral! That speed Spanish course we took certainly left lasting memories but, as far as learning Spanish, was highly ineffective! You and our teacher would understand me if I talked like that!

  3. Sara,

    If it’s any consolation, your Spanish is mucho mucho better than my spanish – just as your french is tres tres better than my francais! I suspect that that fact will give you some encouragement!

    Your mother and I are extremely proud of you and think your doing so well – considering the relatively short time you have been there. Yes, learning spanish can be very frustrating, but you ARE getting there. Just remember how frustrating it was for you to learn french – and how fluent you now are with that language!

    To say that we are very proud of you is an understatement! Keep up that wonderful spirit of yours!!!

    • Thanks, Dad! Next time you and mom come for a visit, I’ll hopefully be able to show you the progress I’ve made. With the airport security the way it is these days, I may very well be fluent by the next time you come!

  4. Sara, you are doing great! It takes time to learn a new language. You will get there.Besides I have found native speakers tend to speak extremely fast making it hard for any student to understand, but just look at all the progress you have made in such a short time.

    • You’re right, Amy. Native speakers speak incredibly fast so I need to stay focused on my own personal improvement and not get too discouraged! How’s your Japanese coming along? That’s a much harder language than Spanish so kudos to you! 🙂

  5. It’s hard to judge your language level when speaking with people who are fluent. It seems you can only think about how inept you are. But getting around people who are your level really brings home how much you have learned. Keep it up!

    • Thanks Clifford! Yes, it has been great to be in a class with others at my level just so that I can not get discouraged. I need to find a Spanish meetup. You have certainly made leaps and bounds in your French since I met you years ago in French meetup!

  6. Yay for Spanish class!! Go Sara! But I mean, if you can understand about hiring strippers, then what else do you need to know, really?

    • Jess! I knew that you would be proud of me! 🙂 I didn’t exactly understand the word, “strippers,” but I did understand that they were talking about hot guys! 🙂

  7. Sara, I’m sure you’re doing great! If you get lost in a story that somebody is telling in Spanish, just make up your own ending, that is what I sometimes do! 🙂 Just be encouraged, remember the journey you had with learning and practicing your French, and how you got so proficient in that…soon that’ll be you in Espanol! 🙂

    • Jules, it helps to know that you have very similar experiences with Spanish. If you moved here, we could take classes together and then we could both speak with our in-laws. That would be so fun! 🙂

  8. I’m SO proud of you, Sara! You’re my inspiration to start studying Spanish, myself! After learning only a few words before my trip to Honduras, I came back determined to tackle the language properly, through classes…Learning languages can be exciting and challenging and exasperating, in equal measure! Congratulations on your language success..Soon, you’ll be chatting circles around your relatives, speaking so fast, THEY can’t keep up!

    • Thanks, Sarah! For years, I thought I should take a Spanish class. I never did, but if I had known that I would be living here, I definitely would have! Classes are so helpful. Let us make it our goal that one day we’ll be able to have a whole conversation together entirely in Spanish!

  9. I can so relate to that. When I was in 8th grade, 2nd year of studying Spanish–it was hard–and I finally thought I was making progress. Then my relatives from Argentina visitied and the 5 year old was just jabbering in Spanish and I realized I knew nothing and I got so depressed.
    But we’re all so proud of you Sara.

    • Rieva, your comment made me laugh because that’s exactly how I felt. Although, at least in my case the native speakers jabbering away were adults! (I mean, there are plenty of 5-year-olds who could talk circles around me, but I stay away from them so as not to get too discouraged! ;)) Thanks for rooting for me!

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