Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sometimes it Rains

I have been feeling pretty good about my Spanish. I have a decent size vocabulary, and can use reasonably complex sentence structure.   I was able to hold a conversation on genetic engineering yesterday, and also explain how gender selection is now actually possible.  Oh, and I was able to explain that the technology that technically could be used for gender selection is not the same as genetic engineering (which has to do with replacing genes).  That's pretty good, right? People understood me, and we had a lively conversation about the topic.

I can read the paper, short stories, a novel.  I'm watching a Spanish version of Gray's Anatomy, and I mostly get it.  I am still having a little trouble with television news, because of the velocity at which the words hurtle at me, but I get most of it.  I can eavesdrop in public places.  I can order in a restaurant.  I can make small talk.  I can talk about my family, my job, my childhood, my future, current events, politics, the weather.  In short, I am comfortable in Spanish.  I am not perfect, but I am comfortable.

Or, I was. I just finished a session with a new tutor.  Our only objective was to chat for an hour in Spanish, to practice my speaking skills.  This was meant to be a low level conversation, to increase my comfort level with my ability.  Easy, right?  I literally have these types of conversations every day.

Unfortunately, this particular tutor had a decidedly different approach to "helping" me learn.  Mostly, my tutors are encouraging.  They correct my mistakes, but they let me finish my thoughts.  They are kind, but still push me.  Generally, they place a lot of emphasis on using the language you have to make the point you want to make, and not worrying about being eloquent.  They remind me constantly that while I may have a graduate degree and capable of high level discussion in English, in Spanish I'm really just a kid.  Maybe a high school kid on a good day.  :)

But this woman today, she literally interrupted me every third word, without even letting me finish a sentence, to make some point or to challenge my word choice.  Some of the criticism was fair--hey, my Spanish isn't perfect.  But sometimes, it was simply that she didn't bother to let me make my point before she interrupted, and she was wrong about what I was going to say.  Sometimes, I was perfectly correct.  Or sometimes, she simply didn't like the structure of my sentence, even though she conceded that it made sense.  In her opinion, there were better vocabulary choices or better phrases to express what I was trying to say.

It was like every part of her approach was diametrically opposed to the teaching methodology that I've been studying under for the last six months.  She wasn't particularly nice about it, either, bluntly telling me that I was wrong, diagraming things on the chart behind her, etc.  When she spoke to me, she spoke to me in the tone and volume you might speak to a foreign toddler, speaking ever so slowly like it was my first week of Spanish lessons.  I have normal conversations with my other tutors and with friends.  Having her speak to me so slowly, like there was something wrong with me, having her interrupt every couple of words, literally in the middle of every sentence, utterly shattered my confidence.

I am not proud of what I did next.  After 45 minutes of this, I cried.

I am a 40 year old woman, and I burst into tears in a Spanish lesson.  Humiliating.

The final straw came when she started to lecture me about my Spanish.  I've had loads of tutors, and I have been getting corrected and taken feedback for six months.  It's never bothered me before.  But her tone, her palpable distaste for me and my Spanish, was more than I could bear.  I felt so disregarded and small.  My last tutor had been telling me that I was doing great and making progress and that my mistakes are very small.  This woman was clearly conveying that she thought I was a disaster.  When she started what was clearly going to be lengthy feedback about what she thought about my Spanish, it was more than I could bear.

Her reaction to my tears was hilarious.   I think she thought I was about to storm out (I was merely reaching for my jacket to grab a tissue), because she asked me to stay and collect myself, and to let her leave.  I then tried to be gracious, and asked her to finish her thoughts (which I conveyed in Spanish, of course).  She told me that I was more comfortable speaking than any other student she has tutored, and that I should be careful not to lose that, because the comfort level is important.

While I would like to take that as a compliment, I know she didn't mean it as one.  What she really meant is "for someone with such crappy Spanish, you have a lot of confidence, and that will carry you a little ways."  And all I can think is that her students don't exhibit a comfort level because she treats them this way all of the time.  I have never met an educator who so effectively cut me off at the knees in such a short amount of time.  If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said that it wasn't possible for someone to even get to me like that.

I managed to hide in the bathroom and pull myself together after that, and was able to get away from work without seeing any of my colleagues.  I already had a massage scheduled for this afternoon, so I just headed over a little early.  Alas, my day didn't immediately brighten.  I hit up a food truck for lunch.  The smell of the chicken biryani lured me in. Indeed, it had great flavor.  It ALSO had a warm apricot pit in it, with just a tiny bit of flesh hanging to it (and no, biryani doesn't have apricots in it).  So gross.

The massage, thankfully, was great, so at least the afternoon ended well.  I am still feeling really fragile, though.  I have more studying to do, but I am feeling so demoralized at this point.  I don't feel like doing anything at all.


Michele said...

I normally dont curse in comments but, wow,what a bitch!!! Most people understand that a) an adult learning a second (or higher) language is tough and b) people are so happy that you are making an attempt and trying that they could care less about your mistakes. Yes, a tutor should help you but she shouldnt berate you. That's awful, and I hope you complain.

If you are reading, watching TV, and carrying on the conversations you are, then you are doing an AMAZING job. Dont let her or anyone else tell you otherwise!

Jess @ said...

That woman's behavior is humiliating! I'm so sorry you dealt with that.

If you can carry on a conversation about genetic engineering I'd say you're doing a darn good job with spanish!