November 28, 2009 is the day I fell in like with Spanish. It was a cool afternoon when I entered Aula 1 (Room 1) of Instituto Cervantes Manila (ICM) and occupied one of the ubiquitous red chairs and waited for the class to start. My hands were clammy, my mind was filled with uncertainty and my heart was heavy with trepidation. I knew not one soul in the building and was clearly out of my comfort zone. I tried to psyche myself into believing that I did the right thing as I looked around the room and saw my classmates. I felt a sudden rush of relief when I realized that I was not alone in my miserable situation; there were a couple of people who looked as clueless and as pallid as I was. Maybe they also regretted enrolling in this class, or worse, they were forced to take it. I did not know at that time that I would still be sitting on one of those red chairs almost six years hence.
Flashback to a couple of months before: I was bored and realized that I had to do something with my free time. At that time, I used to gallivant all over Luzon every weekend and it strained my financial resources and well, how many times could someone visit Tagaytay or Baguio in a year? So I decided to find something that would be mentally stimulating and inexpensive. After a not-so-exhaustive research, I ended up at ICM’s website. Mentally stimulating, check. Inexpensive, check. The only problem was I had zero Spanish knowledge, except for some Spanish words that have found their way to Ilonggo, my native language.
With my virtually nonexistent Spanish I found myself in that unforgettable afternoon of November 28, 2009, sitting on a red chair, front and center, surrounded by 19 eager Spanish learners. The first words I learned were “me llamo” (insert name here) and it was followed by “¿cómo te llamas?” (what is your name). I did not know that five short non-scientific words could pose so much trouble for me until our lively professor, Señora Trining, asked us to do a chain of introducing one’s self to the person to the left and asking that person his name. It took us almost half an hour to finish 20 people. I was exhausted by the end of the first session so much so that I wanted nothing else but to turn back the hands of time and enroll in a cooking class instead of Spanish.
The succeeding lessons did not get easier. We learned how to say our age (tengo X años), our place of origin (soy de X) and the reason why we studied Spanish (Estudio español porque X). By the end of level 1, I memorized my made-up reason for learning the language and I have been using it until this day, with some revisions depending on my mood. We learned some basic Spanish words like numbers, days of the week, months, colors, countries, nationalities, and objects like rotulador (felt pen) and calcetines (socks). I wrote rotulador and calcetines because at level 1, knowing a four-syllable Spanish word was an achievement. 🙂 In addition to these, we also learned directions and position of places and the places themselves. The bane of my Spanish learning is verb conjugation, among other things. We were taught to memorize not one conjugation per verb per tense, not two, but six. Yes, six. Like a team of volleyball players. So I spent my first month at ICM memorizing conjugations of verbs that end with –ar (trabajar: yo trabajo, tú trabajas, él/ella/usted trabaja, nosotros trabajamos, vosotros trabajáis, ellos/ellas/ustedes trabajan), -er, -ir and the irregular verbs. I had almost perfectly-lined notebook where I wrote all the verb conjugations and 98% of what was discussed in class. My penmanship was at the height of its limited beauty, which encouraged me to memorize the words I wrote. Or I thought I did.
Level 1 was a non-exam level but Señora Trining deemed it necessary to give us a two-part exam. Extensivo classes at ICM meet once a week, three hours at a time, for 10 meetings, so we had the 9th and 10th meetings devoted for oral and written tests respectively. I did not quake in my rudimentary black shoes during the 15 and 30-minute oral exams in Theology and Philosophy in college (I fell off a chair once, but I got an A, so it was fine) and I rather enjoyed the grueling grilling in Finance and OpMan, but my knees turned jelly when it came to a seven-minute Spanish presentation where all I had to do was talk about myself and my family. I knew I was not getting a 10 when I felt my hands sweat, my face turn red and my armpits, well, let me say that they would not have passed for any anti-perspirant commercial at that point. 🙂 The written exam was not as nerve-wracking as the orals but I realized that I did not memorize ALL the words on my notebook. I am sure I made up some new Spanish words during the test. Teheee.
My baptism of fire in Spanish (that lasted for 30 hours) was a humbling yet compelling experience. Señora Trining was a great teacher for first-time learners like me. Aside from teaching us to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, she also told us about her struggles in learning Spanish, her life in Spain and the valuable lifelong lessons she comprehended. Under her tutelage, I realized that I did not know anything and I will not know everything, but there is a good chance that I will know a lot of useful things if I work hard.
After my stint with Señora Trining, I decided to continue learning Spanish. Level 2 was not as fun as level 1 in terms of learning per se, but I met some great classmates who made me persevere through my intellectual inadequacies. We became close enough to spend our nights and early mornings together, talking about life while drowning their sorrows in beer bottles and mine in orange juice. In the midst of life-sharing, life-coaching, if you will, we laughed at our silliness and parted ways as the sun showed itself in the horizon. As I climbed up the rungs of Spanish learning, some classes dissolved into nothingness while some friendships formed.
It has been almost six years since I first stepped foot on ICM grounds. During this time, La Furia Roja won its third European Championship and its first World Cup. Real Madrid won La Décima. Sergio García has not won a Major yet, but I am now a closet fan of him and of Miguel Ángel Jiménez. I fell in love with Iker Casillas Andres Iniesta’s legs Juan Mata, learned flamenco and watched Spanish films and series without subtitles (and understood around 75%. It is a work-in-progress. 🙂 ) The Roselee who struggled to say “me llamo” on day 1 is still struggling. My verb conjugation is spotty at best and I might not know the difference between ser and estar by heart. Also, I will always get confused between pretérito indefinido and pretérito imperfecto. But, I am still here. Still standing after almost six years. Still learning the language and the culture of the people who produced the most beautiful bearded man ever. Okay, I kid. 🙂
Six days ago, I took the exam for C1.6 (Level 24 out of 30). It is the last exam before I embark on another journey – a world of discussion about literature, history, economics or translation, among other things. It also marked my last day at ICM-Kalaw because ICM has transferred to Makati. See you in Makati! 🙂
To know more about Instituto Cervantes Manila’s upcoming activities or if you want to learn Spanish, visit its website at http://manila.cervantes.es/en/default.shtm or its facebook page at www.facebook.com/InstitutoCervantesManila.