The thought of taking language lessons came up one day. "Oh, that's a great idea," I said perhaps too quickly. I had been in South America before, long ago, and took a course, of sorts, ahead of that trip, and the idea of taking a class while in-country seemed an even better idea. One gets to use his, or her, new found conversational skills immediately, and thereby learns the language even more quickly. Yes, it seemed a good idea.
That was a week or two ago. The Google has since provided the answers to all our questions, excepting how to actually speak Spanish of course, and we are off to visit a school in Belgrano, a bit to the north, or is it to the west, of our apartment in Palmero? If, after an entire month in Buenos Aires, I still can't even tell directions, how am I going to manage with language lessons?
"Well," Maria responded, "You need to take a placement test."
"A placement test? Aren't we in the beginners class?"
"Ah, no Jeem, "We have many classes and we want to place you in the right class for the level of your ability and comprehension. Sherry might be more advanced, or you might be..." Maria's sentence didn't finish for some reason.
Ability and comprehension. Not necessarily a good combination, nor even good on their own come to think of it, but never mind, she has our money after all.
"How long will this placement test take?"
"About fifteen of your minutes Jeem."
After a brief consultation with Sherry, we agreed to take the placement tests that very day. Why come back, when we can do it now.
The test was a simple two page thing. In fact, page one offered only ten questions and multiple choice at that. That's easy enough. What are my odds if I have to guess at every question? And what are the odds of me having to guess at all ten?
Page two of the placement test asked the student to write, in Spanish, one paragraph, using as much of the language as the person might know.
What can I say? I did my best. The multiple choice: easy. However, while writing my paragraph, which really amounted to random words patched together without any real sentence structure, I realized, very clearly in fact, that less would ultimately be better. That the more words I put down on paper would only make it look worse. Less, but of some quality (and I hoped these were actual words I was putting to paper), would serve my cause. I looked over at Sherry's paper and she appeared to have an actual paragraph in place; sentences that seemed to have subjects, and predicates, and the use of feminine and masculine. Oy vey, I thought to myself.
We took our papers to Maria for marking. Obviously my thoughts about multiple choice weren't altogether correct. I might have had better odds with the Loteria Nacional. Hell, my odds are better on the lottery. Ten questions. Ten wrong answers. In fact, I had originally answered one question correctly and changed it to a wrong answer!
As for my paragraph of chicken scratch... well, it provided some humour for the early afternoon. My one real sentence, "La cuenta por favor," was applauded, as was my listing of a number of wines of Argentina, but my attempt at developing a conversation on the page provoked a polite but not quite suppressed laugh.
"No, da nada."
"No! Da nada!"
Maria was gracious, gentle and supportive too I would suggest. Obviously Sherry will be placed in a slightly more advanced beginner's class. My fate is less clear. I'm thinking my class might be taking a number of out-trips, to the zoo for example, or the park perhaps. One day we might make bird houses. Painting might be a good activity, or simple drawing.
Our classes start soon, and we won't know our placements until that very day.