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How Spanish taught me to love English

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AUGUST 04, 2015

This summer I’ve been doing some tutoring in order to not be such a broke college student and to keep my mind chugging through the off-season. I offer tutoring in English, math and Spanish, and recently I had a session tutoring a high school freshman in Spanish. Now I’m almost done with my Spanish minor at UC Berkeley, and needless to say, Spanish 1 was a long time ago, so I was struggling to think of what to teach her. Pronouns? Vocabulary? Conjugations? Probably?

I ended up teaching her pronouns. Spanish has way more pronouns than English, and it was difficult for her to keep them all straight. There are sets for direct objects and indirect objects and subjects and on and on, and as I was trying to explain what they were all for, I realized I had no idea.

I’ve been speaking Spanish in school since kindergarten and can kind of tell how things are supposed to sound, just like I can in English. I know the feel of Spanish but haven’t thought about the fundamental structure of it in a while because I can get by on instinct.

When I edit in English, “feel” is also mostly what I rely on. I correct based on what sounds right rather than actually analyzing for grammar, as I maybe should. I definitely couldn’t tell you (or her) the definition of an indirect object or really any other part of speech.

This moment was a real eye-opener for me, even though it was relatively trivial. As an editor and as a person, I need to know about my own language and how it works, because it’s a huge part of my identity. Most of the media I consume and all of the books that have impacted me the most are in English, I express in English my love for the people in my life, and I understand my environment through the lens of my language. So does everyone else!

Moral of the story? It’s kind of cool — and maybe even important — to engage, in a new way, with something so familiar to you. Language is a diverse and complicated thing, and to think you have it all figured out is foolish. I was a fool, but no longer. I’m going to keep delving into this language that means so much to me and, in doing so, expand my understanding of myself and the world. We’ll see what I find. Hopefully the definition of an indirect object pronoun, at least.

Contact Serene Lobue-Deshais at [email protected].

AUGUST 03, 2015