Thursday, July 18, 2013

Foreign Tongues

I read an article about an American man who woke up from a coma speaking only Swedish. Wow, how very strange and inconvenient. I took several years of Spanish in high school and college, but not much of it stuck. I can say “Hello”, “Good-bye”, “Where is the bathroom?”, and a few sentences from a dialogue I had to learn - “Luisa has a cold. I’m sorry. That’s too bad!”. I met a girl named Luisa about twenty years ago, but she didn’t sound like she had a cold. Otherwise, I would have dazzled her with my bilingual observations. The summer after second grade, I took a French class with two neighborhood girls - my best friend Deb, and a really mean girl named Susan. My mom had found out about the class a week or two after the session began, so I started at a distinct disadvantage. I was shy, and felt like a freak while everybody stared at the new kid. Mon Deiu! It was torture. I can still count to ten in French and remember a couple of songs. I must have learned out of fear. I think some people have a penchant for picking up new languages. I’m not one of them. Maybe the way I was taught was part of the problem. We learned Spanish through memorization, and lots and lots of grammar. We conjungated verbs until our eyes crossed. We did very little actual speaking, which seems like that was missing the point. How is knowing I am speaking in the Pluperfect Tense going to help me navigate my way through shops in Acapulco? Or comforting poor Luisa and her snotty nose? I think my kids also didn’t have a great time with their foreign language studies in school. I don’t remember Ben struggling with Spanish that much, but Molly had a horrible time with French. I’m sure she said “Adieu” forever on the last day of French class. These days I’m concentrating on trying to understand Dog. My doggies seem to understand me, so I guess I need to try harder to get down to their level. Fortunately, dogs don’t conjugate verbs or diagram sentences. I draw the line at sniffing butts, though.

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