Friday, August 20, 2010

I'm not good at everything (I know you're shocked)

When I was at freshman orientation – 10 years ago just last month – I called home to talk to my mom. “All of the Spanish classes are full,” I moaned. “I think I’m going to take Italian.”

“Just wait and take Spanish next semester,” my mom (a college professor, but not in a foreign language) advised.

I didn’t listen.

I don’t know why I didn’t listen. I didn’t take Spanish during my senior year of high school. What could I have forgotten in those additional three months that I hadn’t forgotten in the previous 14 months?

I signed up for Italian instead.

I did okay in my Italian 101 class. I didn’t study as much as I should have. I didn’t engage myself in class. But I got through it, barely giving a thought to the fact that Italian was only the beginning. UM required that I take four semesters of a foreign language to graduate. Italian wasn’t going away after mid-December and I’m not sure that I grasped that.

Italian 102. I had this sweet instructor who seemed to genuinely like me, despite the fact that I was brutal. Awful. Absolutely pathetic. I went to every class but, still, I wasn’t getting it. I’m not sure that I studied enough, but I’m certain that I didn’t study in the right way. Right at the end of the semester, on the drop date, I dumped the class (at the advice of my instructor and my personal advisor/mom) and took the blemish on my transcripts. It was better than taking the F.

I went home from the summer in a bit of a panic about the language situation. I had to figure something out. I had to pass four semesters of a language or I couldn’t graduate. This wasn’t optional.

During the summer semester, I enrolled in Italian 101 at my mom’s college. (For free. Woohoo!) I did okay, but it didn’t move at the warp speed that my other Italian courses did. But it was so nice to practice.

(I never told my professor that I had already taken Italian at UM. How much of a turd am I?!)

But when I got back to school, and got back into Italian 102 again, I floundered. I just couldn’t get it. I couldn’t do it. And it SUCKED. For a student who never did anything but well, it was completely unnerving.

I talked to my instructor (the same one I had the previous winter). She knew that I was trying and, still, failing. She refered me to my advisor, telling me to ask about the test that I'd have to take to test out of language.

And when I say "test out," I really mean "prove myself so bad at learning language that I'm granted an out."

And I was. I took the ASVAB - Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery - and apparently I sucked hard enough to be granted the waiver. Instead, I was required to take four classes in one culture. That's how I ended up taking a lot of Russian literature.

I still wonder how much of that was because I'm really bad at learning languages and how much of it was because I didn't know how to properly study for a language or because I was just an overwhelmed college kid with too much on my plate.

At some point, I would like to try again. To see if, when it is the only subject I'm trying to learn, when I'm not pressured to get a certain grade or learn to a certain level, if I could do a little bit better.

And I'd like to prove to myself that I can do it.


Lauren said...

While we don't have language skills in common (I studied Spanish, German, and Russian in college), we have Russian literature in common!

If you want to learn a language, go abroad. It won't be about studying enough, it will be all about using it- every day, all the time. It makes a HUGE difference.

Unknown said...

It's so funny that you posted this, because my sister signed up for Italian this semester to fulfill her language requirement as an undergrad- she has no idea what's coming her way! Was that a UM requirement or just your major (I wasn't required to take any languages for a health degree, but my sister who is also at the same college is getting a degree in religion and has to take 2 semesters).

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