Wednesday, November 11, 2009

¿Dónde está ese puente maldito?

I greatly admire people who've managed to learn a second language. It's one of the most highly valued, marketable skills today. Plus, what a confidence boost it must be to enter a foreign country already knowing you'll be able to communicate.

In the case of my friend, Spencer, my mind is blown by the fact that he not only mastered 3 foreign languages, he mastered 3 completely different alphabets - Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. That is quite a soup he's concocted in his brain.

I sometimes wonder how he can keep them all straight.

Now me, I've tried my hand at various languages throughout my tenure on Earth.And I always have the highest of hopes I'll be able to immediately open my mouth and have something totally foreign and beautiful and, most importantly, coherent come out. Unfortunately, what I also have is the most horrendous fear that I shall open my mouth and something tremendously stupid will tumble out1. But that's what classes are for...right?

So first I took a few weeks of German. I was in grade school. I had no choice. I don't remember any of it. Not one word...except deutschmark but I think that's just because I keep up with current events.

When I got to CY Junior High, I had a choice of French or Spanish. And because I am a practical sort of girl, I signed up for French. Because, you know, there's like this whole French invasion thing happening in Wyoming. Everyone there wears berets and drinks wine and speaks through their noses...or not...but most of you wouldn't know because most of you have never and will never go to Wyoming.

Anyway, yes, so I signed up for French. Took 2 whole years of it too! I did pretty good - brought home the A's. But then this was, after all, junior the middle of a portable classroom. The bar was kinda low.

After two tedious years, I am still confident in my ability to count to three in French. After that, I switch to a mixture of other languages and the French get confused when I do that.

I also know how to say this:

Je m'appelle Jane. Je t'aime mon petit chou.

Roughly translated this says "I am called Jane. I love you my little cabbage." This is a practical thing to say to the French even with an American accent. They are very romantic even with Americans. I'd strongly advise you not to introduce yourself and then declare your love by calling anyone a little cabbage in America though. Most people get a little testy about it.

After that, I took a break from languages throughout the rest of junior high and high school preferring instead to focus on taking English classes (I took 4 my last year in high school). Me thinks I do pretty good in that language.

In college however, there was a foreign language requirement. By then I was smart and decided Spanish would probably be the best course of action given that I was exposed to it all the time via Open Access Television, Univision, and Telemundo soap operas. So I signed up for Spanish 101.

There were people in that class who'd spoken Spanish their whole lives. I personally thought that was cheating but it turns out speaking it and being able to read and write it are two different things. Kind of like being able to speak English and not being able to read or write it. Funny how illiteracy works across all languages, right?

Now, I will admit I was an ace at the reading and writing part. I could conjugate a verb within an inch of its life! My professor was duly impressed with my ability to grasp the written language.

But then I opened my mouth. And it wasn't that I didn't know the words. It's that I'm from the middle of Wyoming which is about as white bread as one can possibly get. Everything I uttered was virtually incomprehensible to a native Spanish speaker. I blame this on phonics.

The final was a written and one-on-one oral exam. I, of course, breezed through the written. During the oral exam though, the professor gave up after 2 questions. He told me "I will give you an A in this class but you need to promise me something. You must promise not to try to speak Spanish again."

I took the "A" and gave up on ever opening my mouth to a foreign language ever ever again.


Once out of college, I took a job in an elementary school with a high Spanish speaking population. And I was in charge of making phone calls for attendance and nursing duty because I was the low man on the totem pole. So, I practiced and I practiced and I practiced. Now, in addition to being able to count to 9 in Spanish, I can also utter these 3 phrases perfectly2.

¿Dónde está ese puente maldito?

Translated this says "Where is that confounded bridge?" I did not learn this from the elementary school but from my old roommate, Jeremy. This is not a practical phrase unless you are, in fact, looking for a bridge. I would also, if I were you, avoid saying this in Peru unless you are speaking to a sailor as the translation becomes a little more bawdy south of Mexico.

Then there is this...

Venido coja a su niño. Él tiene piojos principales.

Translated this says "Come pick up your child. He has head lice." This has many practical applications as head lice do not discriminate.

Additionally, I can also say...

Yo no habla español. Pero! Gorge no está en escuela. ¿Es enfermo?

Translated this says "I do not speak Spanish. But! Gorge is not in school. Is he sick?" The intent was to give the parent a yes or no question because I can understand "si" or "no". However, as soon as I would utter the phrase, a diluge of rapid fire Spanish would assault me and I'd hang up the phone in defeat...unless, of course, Gorge was suffering from piojos principales - a phrase I could pick out - in which case I knew precisely where Gorge was and what he was doing.

Now I don't have to know any Spanish or French or German. My job doesn't require it at all and my personal life only grazes foreign language by the occasional listen to the BBC radio and watching The Mighty Boosh. I'm still in awe of multi-lingual people though. Jealous if you want to know the truth.

So I've been thinking...could I learn a language? One that doesn't require me to have anything better than my Wyoming White Girl Twang?

Guess what? There is.

American Sign Language. The deaf don't care what my accent sounds like or if I roll my r's or if I speak through my nose or grunt. As far as I know, ASL doesn't even HAVE an accent. And I'm great at talking with my hands.

So ASL it is. I'm going to sign3 up for the class through Colorado Free University. I do love the CFU.

1: Not that this has ever stopped me in English. There's just something mortifying about doing it in a foreign language.
2: Or near perfectly. I practiced...a lot.
3: Sorry! Those puns just keep slipping out unintentionally...and with an accent.


kk said...

Hey, not to make you feel pressured or anything, but did you know that kids can start to learn and make some signs before they even have the muscle control to speak? My oldest kiddo started signing for 'milk' when she was about 6 months old after I worked on it with her for about a month. So, I know a teeny tiny amount of sign language, but you are probably looking to learn more than 'more', 'milk', 'airplane', 'potty', 'man', 'apple', etc...

I am trying to learn Spanish tho (or was, about a year ago) and would love to practice sometime if you change your mind on trying to speak it...

Just Jane said...

I dunno. All the words you mention seem to be applicable to my life...

"more" "man" "milk"...throw in a please and I think that about covers it LOL.

zero hour said...

i took SEVEN years of Spanish, from the 4th grade and up when we moved to Florida
to highschool two years required language, I picked Spanish cuz..well after all I HAD had it in grade school, how hard could it be to continue..I wa a miserable much so that the teacher actually CALLED my parents to see if I had a hearing problem because all I could say in response to her queries in class was.."QUE?" LOL
The first year I squeaked by with a...d+ was it? Then the evern harder second year I was so miserable in the class at finals time we had a conference and she told me" Listen you failed the class and according to the rules you have to repeat it..but I will do this for you..I am going to pass you ,but you must promise to NEVER go to any Spanish speaking country, can you do that? YOu have driven me CRAZY and I can't take another year of YOU!?" Of course I readily agreed....
I CAN say...donde es el banyo?

I feel yer pain..

I can sign /spell out "go to hell" comes in do.