Word on the street: English as a second love

The scene: St. Matthews ESL program over at 18th and N. I helped out with hospitality -- fancy word for opening doors and serving snack -- during the summer session. What follows is a conversation between me and one of the level one students who always seemed very happy to see me ...

It's snack time. I sit at the table, taking money and dishing out snacks. The level one class comes down. One of the students is Ermelindo, a young man who looks about 19 or 20. He is smiling and stammering as he approaches the table.

Ermelindo: Hola.

Julia: Hello.

Ermelindo: Do you speak Spanish?

Julia: Only a little. I studied it in high school, but haven't practiced it since.

Ermelindo: You have to speak Spanish.

Julia (laughing): Why? You're here to learn English.

Ermelindo: You have to learn to speak Spanish so we can talk because I love you.

Julia: (stunned silence)

Ermelindo: Ok?

Julia: Um. (gropes for Spanish vocab)Ummm ... come se llama?

Ermelindo: Ermelindo. You can say Lindo. It means ... wonderful! And handsome.

Other student: No. Guapo means handsome.

Julia: Yeah! I thought lindo meant cute, as in 'aww, look at the 'cute little boy'!

The emphasis does not translate. Ermelindo continues beaming and stammering. The other students leave. He remains.

Julia: Lindo, you have to go back to class.

Ermelindo: I can't.

Julia: Why?

Ermelindo: I have to stay here and protect you.

Julia: Go!

He grins all the way up the stairs. It needs no translation. I'm grinning too.