I get it. We all hate looking ridiculous. It’s part of the reason I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a blog for years, but am only just now writing my first post. Will anyone read it? Do I even want them to? What will they think? Will anyone find my ideas interesting, or will everyone just think I’m dumb and boring? Is this whole blogging idea just… ridiculous?
Yet here I am, starting a blog.
As usual, my students were my inspiration, even now, on summer vacation, when I haven’t seen them in over a month. I started thinking about how much I love watching them take risks in class and how hard I work to cultivate a classroom atmosphere in which it’s okay to make mistakes and look a little silly, and I realized that it’s not exactly reasonable to expect my students to put themselves out there if I’m not willing to do so myself. And thus, this blog was born.
In the spirit of being willing to look ridiculous, I’ll start this blog off with a personal story from last summer, when I took a group of students to Spain. We all stayed with host families for three intensely hot weeks, with temperatures soaring well over 100ºF (That detail is important to the story, as you’ll see in a second). I’m guessing most of us have experienced something similar, because, let’s face it, learning a language is a messy process, and even as the “experts,” we’re all still going to make mistakes from time to time. Why not be willing to put our flops and failures out there, for each other and for our students? What better way to show them that we really mean it when we say that it’s okay to get things wrong, as long as you’re trying? So without further ado, here’s mine:
It turns out that the heat in Spain is not ridiculous. Heat cannot be ridiculous, in fact. I learned this the hard way, when my señora asked what I thought of the heat and I replied “Es ridículo.” She looked positively flabbergasted.
“Pero Jennifer, ¿qué has dicho? ¿Ridículo? ¡No! ¡El calor no puede ser ridículo! Espantoso, horrible, horroroso… sí, pero ridículo, no! ¡No puedes decir esto!”
“Vale, entiendo. No lo digo nada más,” I replied.
“Pero, ¿por qué has dicho ridículo?”
I tried my best to explain that in America, or at least in Jennifer-speak, “ridiculous” can be used to exaggerate or indicate that something is well beyond what we would normally expect. She just kept shaking her head no, and saying something along the lines of “¿Cómo te lo explico? ¿Cómo te defino lo que es ridículo? Una persona puede ser ridícula, pero el calor, no.”
Again, I try to indicate that I’ve got it. Ridiculous does not describe heat. Then she becomes worried that she doesn’t have a dictionary, and tells me that she always tells her “chicas americanas” to look words up in the dictionary when they misuse them, which of course won’t be helpful because it’s exactly the word for what I was trying to say; it’s just not an expression they use here, apparently.
Then Antonio, her husband, returns home.
“Antonio, ¿sabes lo que ha dicho Jennifer? ¡Ha dicho que el calor es ridículo! El calor no puede ser ridículo, ¿no? A ver si tú puedes explicárselo. Vale, Jennifer, el profesor te lo explica.” (Antonio is a professor – of agriculture, mind you, but this still apparently makes him an expert on all the ways in which the heat is definitely not ridiculous.)
Antonio agrees. Heat is not ridiculous. Espantoso, horrible, horroroso, sí. Ridículo, no. This prompts María José to run through the list of adjectives again. Wanting to show that I am not, in fact, incapable of producing the Spanish language, I add “¿insoportable?” to the list, with a questioning intonation, seeing as there is definitely a guest list for this party, and not all adjectives are on it. Her eyes light up. “Sí, insoportable, eso puede ser. Pero ridículo, no.”
I think we’re just about done with the whole thing, when her daughter and granddaughters arrive on the scene (the girls are around 8 and 10, lovely, lively girls I’ve shared a few meals with over the past three weeks.) Back to square one. “¿Sabes lo que ha dicho Jennifer?…” You know the rest by now. The daughter and granddaughters agree, heat is definitely not ridiculous. Carmen (the younger of the two) tells me that if she were to go out with her hair uncombed, that would be ridiculous. My señora and her daughter nod – that, yes, would be ridiculous. My señora seems inordinately pleased that the 8-year-old has finally found a way to explain the concept to me.
So now you know. The heat in Spain is not ridiculous. Calling it so… now that is ridiculous, and I’m pretty sure even María José would agree.