Second Language

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“I am in no way going to use this!” was something I said nearly every day of my seventh-grade year. Staring out the window while applying my Tropical Punch Lip Smackers, I used to be consumed with thoughts of boys, sleepovers, and my drama, and I didn’t have time for Ms. Luna’s ridiculous sombrero she wore during Spanish language class. I desire I knew that my ignorance to pay attention to the second language training would cost me one day.
After marrying my husband, José, in Honduras, and having our tropical honeymoon leaden with a heavy cumulonimbus overcast, I became desperate for cultural competence and an umbrella.
One day, on our search for a appropriate French café, we found shelter from the torrential downpour beneath a lush white mangrove and began drinking copious amounts of Guifiti. “Uno mas, por favor!” was all I could say to the friendly, olive-skinned boy behind the bar. “Cállete la bocca!” was the only come back I could spit out at my new husband. He sat next to me, perched on a bar stool laughing at my poor pronunciation, and translated my slurred order to the bartender. It was under that dripping tiki bar that I finally realized how naïve I had been. I wanted nothing more than to go back in time and tell my twelve-year-old self what had happened. She needed to know this!

Six months into our marriage and five months into my pregnancy with our daughter, Hadlee, José was stationed near the South Korean peninsula. Kunsan Air Base was about to become home, and the Korean language was about to start a new battle I never saw coming.

October 1, 2012, I was woken by an unfamiliar voice with an accent I wasn’t used to. “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Incheon International Airport. Local time is 9:37 am, and the temperature is 11 degrees Celsius.” I stepped out into the cool damp air and was immediately greeted by a malodorous aroma that ravaged my senses. I had finally made it to Seoul, Korea. José had been there for a few weeks before my arrival and was excited to take me out for what he called “Beef on a Leaf.” I hungrily complied, and we went to a colorful little dive called “Gal B.” The smell of mint leaves, barbeque, and kimchi was much kinder to my prenatal sensitivity, and the neon restroom symbol was a welcoming beacon, guiding me to the end of my weary travels.

Nevertheless, my blissful relief was brought to an abrupt halt when I went to flush and encountered a strange language. There were keypads containing symbols I had never seen before. I have always considered Asia to be advanced in several aspects, and this was a technical illiteracy for which I wasn’t prepared. My stomach began to growl, and from experiencing this sensation before, I knew that if I didn’t eat. I would be vomiting in that very toilet within minutes. I pushed one button. Nothing happened. I pushed another button, nothing happened. The third button I chose had a blue droplet on it, and I took it as a sign that this was the magical button that would save the day. I pressed it and was gravely mistaken. A spout appeared and a stream of water shot in the air. This was no tiny blue droplet. This could have been the hose on the side of a firetruck! Soaked, hungry, and hormonal, I started to cry. Exhausted and defeated, I washed up, found my husband, and we got our beef and our leaves to-go. On our way home, I vowed to never travel to another foreign country, unless I fluently spoke, and read the native language.

In June of 2013, he received orders to Lakenheath Royal Airforce Base in England, and I obliged.

Five years later, I have only added a mere 20 words to my Spanish language skills. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Ms. Luna and her crazy ways. Her quirkiness and vibrant personality weren’t appreciated until now. I see now why she cared so much about teaching her first language. She understood the importance and knew through her own experiences how difficult it would be for us to learn a second language as we grew older. After cognitive development and acquiring knowledge of the English language, processing a new language is complicated. “What does that mean?” is now a question I ask several times a day. Something I never thought I would need has now become essential, and I have a lot of learning ahead.

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