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Spanish without the bull



At first I thought he had a little something on the side. My husband would lie in the hammock, book open on his chest, murmuring and smiling to himself. In the evenings after pulling in the driveway he'd sit a little too long in the car, as if dreading to come inside. I was beside myself.

            The truth came out in bed, as it so often does. The kids were finally asleep and we had a few minutes to ourselves. Before I even had a chance to make my "hey, baby..." look, my husband said, "No I toros."

No I toros? What the hell is that? It doesn't sound like a girl's name. It's crazy talk.

            "It means 'There are no bulls,'" my husband said patiently. "It's Spanish."

            Is that so? The next morning I tore his car apart, looking for clues. Nothing. I turned the car on in despair, and voila! A flirtatious female voice emanating from the CD player said, "No hay toros." So that's what he's been doing out here in the car.

            My husband is teaching himself Spanish. Like so many other gringos, he's learning the language of the fastest growing segment of the population. Nearly 39 million Hispanics live here now; in 2025 there will be 59 million, according to census projections.

            President Bush reached out to Hispanics when he made his historic radio address in Spanish a couple of years ago; Congress is following close on his heels. In increasing numbers, senators and representatives are enrolling in "Spanish on the Hill," a flexible language class for busy pols. Republicans can learn how to say "compassionate conservative," to their Hispanic constituents; Dems can learn to translate, "Where the hell are the WMD?"

Language used to be a colorless part of the curriculum, much like algebra, which was goose fed to me as I tried to master sleeping with my eyes open. Today it's much more fun.

            Middle- and high-school students can visit Spanish websites, watch videos in class, and listen to Spanish versions of songs by P. Diddy, Christina Aguilera, and Sean Paul. My grade-school-aged kids actually like learning Spanish. They don't spend long hours in an airless language lab, heaven forbid! They sing Spanish folk songs, color clever worksheets, and play games in Spanish with spunky Nazareth College students who visit them at school. Or they learn from television shows like Dora the Explorer, which, though dopey, are effective and easy.

            And my husband's CD-and-book set, Spanish Without the Fuss, is almost pornographic in its tale of Spanish Carmen and American Peter, who meet --- get this --- online. Their first flirtations take place anonymously, as they tease each other and describe what they look like. "Soy morena con ojos grandes y negros," Carmen says. ("I have dark hair and I have big, black eyes.")

            As he drives to work, my husband learns such crucial comments as, "¬°Hijole! Son las doce de la noche y creo que estoy tomando demasiado tequila." ("My goodness! It's already midnight and I think I'm drinking too much tequila!")

His "No hay toros" phrase comes from a conversation in which Carmen tells Peter about a Sting concert scheduled for a bull ring in Madrid. Silly Peter thinks Sting will be in the ring with the bulls.

            Carmen laughs and says, "¬°No, hombre, no! Sting tiene un concierto alli. No hay toros." ("No, of course not! Sting will give a concert there. There are no bulls!") For all I know, they're going to have hot nasty sex --- in Spanish, of course --- by the end of CD number four.

            I will never know, though, because while the rest of the world is learning Spanish, I'm still stuck with the French I labored over for seven long years. I became fluent in a language that I can never use, now that we hate the French. People learning Spanish, on the other hand, can utter just a few sweet Spanish sounds and they'll be gathered into the arms of a friendly and growing segment of society. Unlike the French, Hispanics are not only forgiving of our linguistic gaffes, they can boast such pop culture icons as Enrique Iglesias and J.Lo, and are the authors of many of today's hot fashions.

Nationally, as enrollment in other languageclasses stays flat, schools and colleges are adding Spanish teachers and classes in record numbers. Monroe Community College has increased its Spanish-language offerings by a whopping 50 percent in the past four years, according to Carol Adams, dean of interdisciplinary programs.

            Some of the most appealing classes MCC offers are geared toward specific occupations. I like the program called Command Spanish, because one of their slogans is "Non-grammar-based; we don't conjugate."

            No memorizing deadly lists of verb conjugations! Students just learn the commands they need for their jobs in law enforcement, firefighting, and health care. Firefighters might learn to say, "Stop, drop, and roll," "Put down that lighter," and "Get your flaming hair out of my face."

            Which brings us to why my husband is learning Spanish. He's a physician who wants to be able to reach out to his Hispanic patients. It all started after he returned home from a recent trip to Spain with medical illustration posters. Ever since, his Hispanic patients have enjoyed using the posters to discuss their illnesses in their own language. I don't have the heart to tell them that unless their conditions include the phrase, "No hay toros," my husband doesn't understand a word they are saying.

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