Despite rhetoric to the contrary, Spanish is not an easy language to learn. Nor is English. To learn a second language one needs a powerful incentive. There is no incentive stronger than love.
Twenty years ago we had at this newspaper a very pretty photographer, Clarissa Acuña. Every young male reporter who joined the staff fell in love at first sight.
Since Clarissa was used to lovesick reporters, she rebuffed every friendly gesture. When Neil Templin joined the staff, he was as smitten as the next guy. But Neil came up with a plan.
"Why don't we form a Spanish class?" he asked us.
We could hold the class on our lunch hour and send someone to pick up sandwiches to eat during class.
Maybe Clarissa would teach the class; we could buy her lunch as payment, he said. Would we, he asked, talk to Clarissa about it? Clarissa and I were friends.
Clarissa agreed to teach the class. We put a notice on the bulletin board and personally invited everybody we knew to join the Spanish project. Neil suggested we didn't want too many people in the class. We would learn more in a smaller class, he said.
We knew what Neil didn't know. Spanish classes start off big but dwindle when students find they will not learn Spanish in a few weeks and may never learn it, if they don't work hard.
As a group reporters are bright people. But our Spanish class was decidedly low-level. The students struggled over, "Como esta usted?" (How are you?). When asked "Como se llama?" (What is your name?), they answered, "Muy bien, gracias" (Very well, thank you).
The slowest was Bob Liggett, our managing editor. He couldn't wrap his tongue around Spanish vowels or consonants or trill an R.
Every day somebody had to pick up our lunches and that might have slowed our progress. Ordering took time and there was more lost time as classmates dug through pockets for change to pay and the lunch courier checked off the payments.
One day, Tom McGrath, the county reporter, returned later than usual because he had to stand in a long line at McDonald's.
"I was standing there," he said, "And I thought, I am a stupid SOB. I brought my lunch."
The class limped along without too many dropouts until we went on vacation. When we came back, the class hadn't met for two weeks. Neil seemed to be speaking more Spanish.
Clarissa said she couldn't teach any more because she was too busy. Maybe we could get Margaret to teach.
All in all, it was an expensive class. First, there was the wedding present, then a few months later, the baby shower, and then the going away present when Neil got a great new job in El Paso.
Today the Templins have three kids and he works for the Wall Street Journal, assigned to the Dallas bureau, we suppose because he speaks Spanish.