Have you ever had a language crush on someone? I don’t mean falling for someone who just happened to be a native speaker of the language you were learning which then made for oh-so-convenient benefits. (Profovios? Ha, that’s a joke. A common word for “friends with benefits” is amigovios. Amigos + novios. Here I am trying to acuñar a word for people you date with the perk thrown in that they’ll teach you their language.) Been there, blogged about that. No, I’m talking about swooning over how well someone (a native speaker of your language) speaks the language you’re learning. In most of our cases that would be an English speaker who speaks Spanish like a god. Or a goddess, as in my case. By definition, gender is of no importance whatsoever in these language crushes, romance and sex are completely beside the point (and, thus, out of the picture), and these crushes are inherently unrequited. The object of your veneration is only peripherally aware of your existence, let alone the fact that you too are giving Spanish your best shot, despite your sorry level. They’re far too busy being so excruciatingly “Spanish” and kindly explaining to todo el mundo in rapid-fire Spanish that they are not from here, that, aunque parezca increíble they’re American, all the while speaking with a flawless accent and effortlessly interweaving idioms that only the locals know while coolly sipping aguapanela like they’d been drinking it all their life. ¡Da rabia! I’m telling you, these people are really asking for it. And, yet, in the most inhospitable places, love springs.
While in Colombia, I had a big fat language crush on a girl named Eva. She and I received the same government grant to go to Colombia, and we were roommates during the orientation in Bogotá when we first went down there. After orientation, I saw her a week later when I spent the weekend in Medellín, which is where she was living. I then saw her a few months later in Mexico, where our group had a something or other. I can’t quite remember. Anyway, I kind of worshipped Eva and her Spanish, despite the very small amount of time I got to spend with her. No matter. It was enough. Enough to drive the stake into my heart–her Spanish was simply divine. Mine, on the other hand, was pitiful. Her Spanish was poised and intellectual, wore miniskirts and drove around in a convertible; mine was bumbling and had stringy hair, always had embarrassing stains on its clothes and it sat around on the weekends, staring at the phone and imploring it to ring. Her Spanish’s phone rang off the hook. Everyone wanted to hang out with her Spanish, my scraggly self included. I was in awe.
Canonization aside, she really did speak great Spanish. Sure, I was just comparing it to my own. I probably wouldn’t be so cowed now (or, who knows, maybe I would). Still, it’s a moot point. While I’ve improved by leaps and bounds in the last two and a half years, so has she, and now that she’s married to a Colombian . . . well. I’m pretty sure I’m now at a permanent disadvantage. I’ll never catch up to her. When we went down there, she had had a Colombian boyfriend for three years. (Although he is not to be confused with the man who is now her husband. Long story! And not really mine to tell.) On the first night, she Skyped him and had a long video call with him on her bed, which was right next to mine. I listened completely transfixed. I couldn’t believe my ears. By the time she hung up, I was ready to pounce. Oh, Eva, you should have TOLD me you were a native speaker! As if, you know, she had cheated and broken the rules. The thing was, though, she wasn’t. Not at all. Her very Slavic last name should have made this only too clear. As I tagged along with her over the next few days, I couldn’t help but notice that she knew how to say, simply put, absolutely everything. Next to her, I felt like a total chump.
By the time I visited her a week later in Medellín, I had one week of Colombia under my belt. I’d been swallowed alive. Day by day, hour by hour, utterance after error-pocked utterance, I’d come to realize that my Spanish was like an ugly boyfriend, and I was embarrassed to be seen with it. With Eva that weekend, we spent some time with locals, and I was on pins and needles trying to play it cool and keep my Spanish under wraps. But then I had to ask her to remind me how to say “favor” in Spanish. Yes, “favor.” Sí, ¡favor! ¡Imagínate! I’m pretty sure that was one of my most humiliating and humbling moments in Colombia, and I have plenty to choose from. If I remember right, this happened in the metro station, and I’m just glad that I somehow managed to keep from hurling myself onto the tracks. I seethed. I suffered. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Those days were so good for my pride and vanity, though! I now wish they happened to me every day. I get a lot of praise, and it doesn’t motivate me. But if every day I were to be consumed with the desire to crawl into a hole and die? It would be awesome. If I had to wear a scarlet ‘U’ on my chest for unfluent? You’d better believe that that would not be the case for much longer. I don’t want you to think I’m not motivated by healthy things, because I am. I just can’t deny, though, that shame and envy also do wonders for me. The positive motivators tell me: I can do it! The day I put my mind to it, I’ll have this thing in the bag. There’s nothing about a time frame, though. I’m always holding out for a language deathbed conversion of sorts. I’m repeatedly reminded that no hay afán and encouraged to take my time. The negative motivators tell me: I’d better do this right now. I can’t stand to live another second with mud all over my face. I refuse to be so pathetic and not achieve my goals. I won’t live forever. For all I know, I’ll die in a car accident tomorrow. Do I want to die monolingual? I’d better get on the ball. Don’t tell me you can’t appreciate the difference.
It turned out that my ex also knew Eva, and he once casually confirmed to me what I’d feared all along–her Spanish was stellar. Oh, how I despised her (and him) in that moment! A pox on both their houses! I never forgave him that infidelity. I’m completely kidding, of course, but we used to talk about how few motivators can trump envy. Is it just me? Surely not. I really liked Eva a lot. We talked semi-regularly and kept in touch a little once she and her husband moved to the US. At the end of the day, I simply admired her. She was a role model for me. She’d taken translation courses and had also studied Portuguese and Italian. She hadn’t gotten lucky or taken any shortcuts–her level was just a reflection of years of hard work and devotion put into her Spanish. And she wasn’t a genius ni nada por el estilo. Smart, yes, but so am I. There’s no reason why I can’t attain exactly what she has. Skills are the result of time and effort (done in an efficient manner, of course) put in, punto. Mad skills mean mad time and effort. Eva simultaneously became a role model and an archrival for me. I like to create imaginary villains to compete with–life’s more interesting that way. Ay, ¿pero y qué se cree la creída esa? Who does she think she is to be speaking Spanish like that? Who do I think I am not to? Unfortunately, by the time I moved to Medellín, she had already moved back to the US, but if she had been there, I would have been a glutton for punishment, seeking humiliation by her side every day if I could have. Maybe one day we’ll bump into each other, though, and I’ll get that sweet mortification I’ve so dearly missed.
So, there you have the story of my first and so far only language crush. I need a new one, though. Feel free to suggest yourself if you think you fit the bill. Where to look? Hopefully I’ll meet one while interpreting at the hospital. Eva set the bar really high, though, so I’m certainly not impressed with just anyone. And I don’t get smitten just for the sake of being smitten. Too many risks. I’m perfectly content to not be taken with anyone. It’s springtime, though, and I can’t deny that it would be so wonderfully delicious right now to fall in love.
What about you? Can you relate? Do you have any language crushes, or do you think I have a screw loose? Do you know anyone who speaks Spanish/English/whatever language you’re learning so well that your jaw drops and you get googly-eyed? What experiences have you had where envy or shame or other negative elements helped you in your language studies? I can’t be the only one, surely.