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Continuing Education: A Foray Into Language Exchange

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I have been taking Spanish lessons for the past six weeks, yet I don't know the name of my instructor. Ordinarily I would ask for the pronunciation of her name to skirt around the actual issue, but the nature of our lessons allows for the possibility that I may miss the information a second time. After all, over Skype, a lost connection is practically the norm.

I am taking Spanish lessons over the Internet -- a language exchange I believe is the appropriate term, considering my instructor does not speak English and I do not really speak Spanish, regardless of what my resume may say.

I have wanted to brush up on my high school foreign language for a while now, but being a broke recent graduate with an unpredictable work schedule, classes in a school-like setting seemed infeasible for me. When I heard about online lessons, I signed up, thinking that I should seize the day in an effort to follow the advice of my daily horoscope. But in hindsight, I realize I should have thought more about what exactly I was getting myself into.

As much as I'd like to pretend that my life is a Nora Ephron film, this has turned out to be no You've Got Mail-esque scenario. The search for a language partner was difficult in and of itself as I forayed into Meetup.com, dooming myself to a lifetime of spam. The last time I unwittingly supplied my contact information to an overly persistent organization in college -- I had to change my email address because my requests to leave the listserv went unheeded. Trying to avoid such drastic measures a second time, I have resigned myself to forever receiving cell phone notifications for inconveniently timed events. Through Hurricane Sandy, I was invited to no less than nine meet-ups, unable to attend any of them without access to the subway.

When I found the company I ultimately ended up using, I wanted to conduct a Google-search for testimonials of other people who had also used them for language exchange, especially because their website was rather uninformative. Unfortunately, this company has such a common name that my search was entirely inconclusive. But I took what I think is called a "leap of faith" anyway, supplying my personal information and disregarding the sense of unease that has been ever-present since I saw that Lifetime movie about the Craigslist Killer.

My language partner turned out to be a lovely 30-something Guatemalan woman, or at the very least, she has been claiming to be a lovely 30-something Guatemalan woman. Sometimes when she feels lazy, she shares a YouTube video in Spanish via Skype screen share, but the audio always lags, and so I understand nothing. Sometimes I also feel lazy and end up canceling our lesson, which actually happens about once a week.

Personal issues aside, I would like to think my Spanish is improving at a swift rate, although this could be due to my roommate's predilection for playing a Mexican radio station at all hours of the night. The problem with online language exchange is that I have also developed an extreme reliance on Google Translate, growing frustrated in situations where I cannot switch to another window to find the exact word I desire to say. While in theory Internet lessons should be convenient and effective, in reality, they are always victim to connectivity issues and inherently suffer from a lack of structure.

At any rate, the other day I missed my stop on the way to work and was wandering through an unfamiliar station when a Spanish-speaking woman approached me, asking for directions. With my limited language abilities, I understood she was trying to go to the Bronx, but this was mostly because Bronx is the same word in both English and Spanish.

"That way. Allí," I said, pointing to the left.

Who knows if she heard my feeble attempt Spanish. At the very least, she followed my finger, hurrying off to the left. But as I was standing there in her wake, I realized that I might have pointed in the wrong direction.