- But I don't want to do it that way, papi. It's... it's... it's... boring.
- Yes, I understand what you're saying, nene, but there's no other way of learning a foreign language.
- Yes, but that's what you used to do in university, I don't have to do the same.
I was fighting a losing battle. For months now I thought I had talked Son into writing down the words he did not understand everytime we read together in Spanish. I firmly believed that he had realised the importance of scribbling hitherto unknown terms and phrases and going over them later. But I could see now that my attempts had been futile. Son had pretended all this time to agree with me whilst covertly wishing to flee this so-called linguistic prison I had placed him in. A younger version of the Count of Montecristo perhaps.
The fact is that I learned English by both imitiation and perseverance. The former was through copying the accents of various actors I came across on telly or at the pictures, usually American and always very well-known. Thus I had my Steve Martin phase (The Man with Two Brains), my Dustin Hoffman phase (Kramer vs Kramer), my Denzel Washington phase (Malcolm X) and my John Malkovich phase (Dangerous Liaisons). There were others, surely, like Murphy (Boomerang), Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) and John Cusack (High Fidelity). At home I used to cover the subtitles on the screen everytime I was watching a movie on my own (unlike in Spain where films are dubbed, in Cuba they are subtitled, which makes it easier for foreign languages students to grasp at least a little of the content of the movie and practise their listening skills).
Perseverance was even more rewarding. I used to walk around Havana with a pen/pencil and a notepad and whenever I had a chance I sat down and scribbled on my little notebook the words and phrases I had learned that day, be it at uni or after going to the pictures. I, then, proceeded to place them in differente contexts from the one I had just seen them in. This resulted in me amassing a large vocabulary through the end of my second year in uni. I had hoped that Son would follow in my footsteps with Spanish. How wrong I was.
And the issue is that he is his own little person with a different personality to mine. Whereas I fret over words I don't understand and whose origin is obscure, he prefers to sit on my lap and ask me directly and without the interference of a dictionary the meaning of the words he doesn't understand. Wife said to me: 'Leave him be, he's only ten and he's not you'. Daughter also joined in the chorus of disapproving voices and articulated her opinion: 'Sometimes we just want to play, not learn'. In the end, I gave up. He no longer brings down his dictionary, notepad and pencil. He no longer gets off my lap momentarily to jot down the terms which I hope will be flouncing out of his mouth in a lively and bouncy manner in the immediate future. Instead we both sit together by the light of the lamp in our lounge and we read in silence, occasionally interrupted by the sound of his young, ten-year-old voice asking me: Papi, what's the meaning of this word? But instead of sending him straight to our bilingual hardback friend, I just look into his eyes and say: It means so and so, Son.