Prof. Lili Wright Humorously Documents 'Learning Spanish: A Tense Undertaking' in New York Times

Prof. Lili Wright Humorously Documents 'Learning Spanish: A Tense Undertaking' in New York Times

May 4, 2003

May 4, 2003, Greencastle, Ind. - "As I pushed my 3-year-old daughter, Madeline, in her stroller down the cobblestone streets of Ronda, in southern Spain, I practiced my question in my head. I wanted to ask Carmen, her day-care teacher, if Madeline was having problems with toilet training at school," begins an essay by DePauw University assistant professor of English Lili Wright in today's New York Times. "I found my verb and shifted it into the past tense before pushing through the front door. When the words came out fairly fluently, I puffed up with pride. Carmen cocked her head, a polite gesture the Spanish use to convey that what I have said makes absolutely no sense. '¿Yo?' she asked. 'Me?' I had just asked her if she wet her pants yesterday."

The piece by Professor Wright, who is on sabbitical this semester with her husband, assistant professor of English Peter A. Graham, and her daughter, is titled "Learning Spanish: A Tense Undertaking" and appears in the travel section of the Times.

"Although it has been a lifelong goal of mine to master a second language, my mission has led to little more than a string of highly enjoyable failures," she writes. "I know of few tasks more frustrating, especially as an adult. When we reach a certain age, we're used to being good at things (the rest we ignore). As a writer, someone who makes her living with words, I can't help seeing my inability to discuss intelligently the plot of the film, the meat in the soup, the sound on the street, as beyond humbling. Everyone says children learn languages more quickly than adults. But do they really? Or is it that we as adults expect so much more of ourselves? We know our crude sentences lack the grace and nuance we intend. Our jokes don't translate. It is hard to be a student again."

The newspaper notes that "Lili Wright teaches English at DePauw University." You can access the essay in its entirety (a free registration is required) by clicking here. Last summer, Wright's first book, Learning to Float, was published by Broadway Books and received critical praise across the nation. You can read about it here.

The essay also sparked a lively and humorous discussion on Chicago's top-rated radio station. Judy Markey of WGN e-mailed Professor Wright, "I wanted you to know that yesterday [Monday] on our show, I used your article to launch a discussion on major bloopers you have made while attempting to speak a foreign language... Could you have made me laugh harder? Dio mio!"

Source: New York Times