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A leap of language

Daunted by his Spanish homework, Anton moans with the belief that it’s a form of punishment.

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There is nothing more heart-rending than a child in pain. This is the thought that occurs to me as I watch my 15-year-old son grapple with his Spanish homework. I can sense his agony from the next room over as he sits at the kitchen table, contorting his body as if trying to escape the clutches of an octopus.

I can understand Anton's pain, but I cannot identify with it. I was first exposed to Spanish at the tender age of 14, as a high school freshman. It was love at the roll of the first "r." I got hooked on the sound of Spanish, the cultures it represented, the lovely rhythms of its verb endings. I still recall my teacher, Mr. Goldrick, standing in front of the room, snapping his fingers and leading us in a conjugative chorus of hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos, habláis, hablan ... over and over. I rose to the challenge, and the deeper I got into the language, the sweeter was the experience.

But poor Anton! His desire to learn a foreign language is microscopic. The closest he ever came to an interest in language was the pig Latin spouted by The Three Stooges. Just recently I urged him to catch up on his Spanish homework. His response: a clearly enunciated "Oh-nay."

Be that as it may, I persist in encouraging him. Sitting next to him at the kitchen table as he huffs and puffs over irregular command forms, his anxiety radiates like heat from a stove. "I can't do it," he moans, and it's clear that he has erected a Masada of resistance to learning Spanish. And so I suggest that he study in 10-minute microbursts, pausing for a snack or some shots at the basketball hoop out back. This does the trick. After his respite, Anton returns to his chair and begins to bore away again.

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