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I recently signed up for Spanish Conversation III at the USDA’s language school. There were plenty of reasons to plunk down the hefty price: $365! Speaking Spanish would be good for my career, might lend a little credibility to my last name and would come in handy when I move to my flat in Mexico City (ha). I’ve taken Spanish for years, starting in grade school and then on and off through high school and college. But it never stuck. I can sometimes stumble through more complicated restaurant orders, but anything higher-level causes mass confusion. Back in school, my problem was “oral proficiency,” I clammed up when it came time to ask my partner “Como se llama?” I was a shy kid, so my anxiety wasn’t anything unusual. Anyway, now I’m not exactly what you’d call shy. But two weeks into class, and I still got hot cheeks when it came time for show and tell. I brought my libreta de reportero (a?) and barely managed to speak for five minutes when the assignment was to talk for 10. I was so nervous. It got even worse when the professor came by. I was sure he would tell me I wasn’t good enough, or maybe just laugh and point at me. Instead, he gave me that lowered-eyelid “I’m watching you” look and walked away. Then I was totally showed up by the others at my table, including one guy who gave a report on “El Extranjero” by Albert Camus.

I’ve thought about drinking to steal my nerves. But the last time I came to class drunk — in high school — didn’t turn out so well. I guess I might try practicing.