I first started gaining a curiosity for foreign languages when I was seven or eight years old and living in a suburb of Seattle, Washington (state). Mom took me to a garage sale, where I somehow convinced her to buy me two books for learning Spanish. One was a coloring book of fruits and vegetables. I distinctly remember a picture of grapes and the word “uvas.” The other was a high school textbook. It was too difficult for me. Over the years, I sometimes tried to study that textbook. I could study Chapter One (about Spanish pronunciation and spelling) but Chapter Two always seemed too difficult for me. Nonetheless, Spanish became an interesting challenge that I wanted to pursue.
I moved back to a suburb of Portland, Oregon, where I lived for most of my life since then. In high school, I intended to take Spanish classes, but they were full. My older sisters had taken French, so I chose French instead, hoping to talk with them in it. I took three years of French in high school, but my sisters forgot it, so I was alone with it.
My Senior year, my school started offering Japanese, so I took a year of it. That was hard but fun. The hardest part was probably that everything was taught to me in hiragana (one of the Japanese alphabets), and I often mixed up the letters and learned words incorrectly. That’s why I’m now a proponent of starting to learn Japanese in the Latin alphabet (but learning the language’s writing system simultaneously, just for reading and writing practice).
Meanwhile, I continued the Spanish challenge independently. I bought a copy of Spanish Now! and studied the whole book by myself from cover to cover. My father was a salesman and had boxes of addressed business envelopes he no longer needed, so I cut them up with scissors to make flashcards, in order to memorize the vocabulary in Spanish Now! I studied Spanish on the couch while watching TV with my father in the evenings.
I attended a four-year college (a university) far from home (Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota), but had a hard time choosing a major. I was curious about everything, so I wanted to take classes in many different departments–but not curious enough to get a thorough knowledge of any one subject. I considered Chemistry, but didn’t want to spend my college years in a laboratory. I was interested in History, but was too slow a reader to major in it.
Concordia’s school year starts in late August and ends in early May. In my day, several departments offered their own May Seminar which would travel while studying a subject: The Art department visited famous museums in Paris, Rome, etc. The Music department visited Vienna and listened to classical music performances in various European cities. The Math department visited Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt. (That was my second choice.) But I didn’t want to spend three days in Paris, three days in Rome, etc. I wanted to get to know one country well. Fortunately, the French department’s May Seminar took a tour of France and had three homestays in different places. So, I took the French May Seminar half-way through college, and then realized I didn’t need many credits to finish a French major. I also decided to become a teacher–a French teacher. Finally, I had chosen my major.
While I was in college, I also took a semester of second year Japanese–which emphasized kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese) too much and had no conversation practice. Up to that point, I was considering transferring to a college where I could major in Japanese, but I realized that such a major would be too stressful. I also took a semester of first year Spanish, and it was fun. I especially enjoyed the lively listening practice in the Language Lab. The textbook was Dos Mundos. But I didn’t take any more Spanish classes, and I don’t remember why.
(To be continued in a later blog entry)