I’ve always loved the Spanish language...from afar. Whenever I heard people speaking Spanish, my ears would perk up to the smooth yet rich sound of the language. Those rolled rr's were music to my ears. Since I’ve arrived in Guatemala, my feelings about Spanish have changed a bit. Don’t get me wrong, Spanish and I are still in a really great relationship, but the Spanish coming out of my mouth isn’t quite as lovely as when I was just listening to it. After several weeks of classes, some of the helpful grammar and useful vocabulary from high school is starting to come back to me (gracias Señora Garcia). But my oral skills are about as choppy as the bus ride down to my Spanish school in Panajachel. I try to remind myself daily that all great relationships require time, patience and heartfelt effort. “Poco a poco,” my teacher says–and she’s right, little by little, it is coming.
I truly admire those who have taken the time to learn another language, particularly the students in our English classes in Chaquijyá. Our students actually learn THREE languages in school: Spanish, Ka'qchikel (their traditional Mayan language), and English. We teach an optional after school English class, and we are excited to report that our attendance rate each week is almost 100%. Emily and I recently taught numbers one through twenty in our English class, and the kids picked up on it pretty quickly. But the alphabet? That’s a different story. The simple idea of the “A-B-Cs” are the foundation for hundreds of beautiful languages. Different accents, dialects and meanings, these letters create millions of words across the world. The “A-B-Cs” I learned in the United States now are taking on a dual meaning to me. As I work on building my vocabulary and losing my gringa accent, I’m continually inspired by my Guatemalan students or other American volunteers taking time to learn a new language. Today at the inauguration of the new Basico school, one man shared that 45% of Sololá is illiterate(!). The ABCs may sound pretty standard, but the privilege of knowledge and education is something to truly be thankful for.
So, Michael Jackson, don’t roll over in your grave but I think we have to agree to disagree on this one. However, I will say, I’m on your side with another well-known idea of yours: “if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make the change.”