The question written on the board in Spanish class was, ¿Que hiciste en la semana pasada? (What did you do last week?)
Confident in my ability to answer the question, I raised my hand. I had the perfect answer to the question in my head: “Yo hice mi tarea y practiqué tenis (I did my homework and practiced tennis.)”
Don Marcos called on a few others while I continuously recite my answer inside my head. Fearing if I make a mistake, I will be vulnerable to Don Marcos’s harsh criticism. Finally he calls on Jose, which is my Spanish name. I start to say my answer, “Yo hice mi...”
Don Marcos promptly cuts me off. “At least try to fake an accent Jose.” The whole class erupts into laughter. I try again, now shaken by his remark and the laughter, “Yo hice mi tarea (the class begins to guffaw again) y practiqué tenis.”
Don Marcos proceeded to call me a “Gringo,” defined by Merriam Webster as, “A foreigner in Spain or Latin America especially when of English or American origin.” Originally I did not know what this term meant but the person sitting next to me explained as she chuckled. Then Don Marcos told me that my accent was something I will work on this year in his class. He then complimented me on my knowledge of written Spanish; this was possibly an attempt to lessen the blow to my confidence. But the damage was already done.
My Spanish accent was not always the subject of ridicule. In fact Srta. Manuel told me that I had a natural accent early last year. Maybe I rested on my laurels a little bit too much the rest of the year. As the year progressed, Srta. Manuel made no effort to correct my pronunciation. I assumed that I still had a good accent throughout the year. I think pronunciation was most likely not as important to her as Don Marcos.
I just cannot seem to get the sound of the language down. I believe there are many reasons I struggle. The greatest reason I struggle to do this is my English dialect has a very clipped rhythmic structure; which is the complete opposite of Spanish’s smooth and consistent flow. I have also have never successfully rolled an “R” in my life. Many people have tried to explain to me how to do it; however, most of the the time, the sound just comes out like a fake growling sound as if I were trying to impersonate a bear.
Since this experience I have lost some power to speak in Spanish class. Even though I am a confident person when it comes to academics, I now am fearful and afraid of getting laughed at every time I speak Spanish. My peers are ready for my poor accent, waiting to pounce on my first mistake, whether it would be holding a vowel sound for far too long or using the wrong emphasis in my accent. It has gotten ridiculous lately as even before I speak some people begin to chuckle in anticipation. This hurts my feelings but I can understand why others laugh. It is just a natural reaction when somebody is bad at something or dumbfounded. I must confess to laughing in similar situations and thus cannot fault them for it.
Just last week I was sitting in geometry, my math teacher asked a girl in our class to identify the Y intercept on a graph. After spending all of last year’s math working on it, I would assume that she would be able to do such a simple task. However, all that came out of her mouth was “Uhs” and “Ums.” I must admit to suppressing a few snickers at her confusion.
While people’s self esteem in a school is important, this pales in comparison with what struggles happen in the real world on a daily basis. For instance, in the personal memoir, Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez, Richard’s parents are immigrants from Mexico. Richard Rodriguez explains his parents struggle when he wrote, “In public, my father and mother spoke a hesitant, accented, not always grammatical English. And they would have to strain their bodies tense - to catch the sense of what was rapidly said by los gringos.”
While my struggles in Spanish class are a problem, I can’t imagine what it would be like if my daily survival depended on being understood by people around me. This experience in Spanish class has made me more sensitive to people who speak English with bad accents. Before, though I would not laugh out loud at poor English accents, I admit to holding back laughter or snickering on occasion. Writing this memoir has made me reflect more deeply on what having a poor English accent would entail in one’s daily life. I thought about the struggles that it would take to even order food with a poor accent because of people’s lack of understanding. It would also be problematic to get a job because of people’s judgment of you. These are issues that did not cross my mind before writing this memoir.
I also have reflected on what laughing in class at somebody’s academic struggle can do to one’s confidence. As I said earlier, it is something that most people are guilty of at least once in their lives. However, I had not been on the receiving end of this type of abuse on a consistent basis since second grade. Now after this experience, with my poor accent in Spanish, I’m going to make a more conscious effort not to laugh at someone’s struggle in class.