I am jealous of people who speak multiple languages. This means you, if my blog map is accurate, and I have readers in dozens of other countries.
Sometimes I’ll notice someone’s background info on Facebook, and it will say they also speak Spanish, French, Dutch, and Portuguese. Or they speak half a dozen African languages. Or they speak Mandarin, Taiwanese, Arabic, and Farsi. Whaaat?
I am also mad at the U.S. school system, which thinks you can wait until junior high or high school to start teaching foreign languages. We should start in pre-school. That’s how others become truly fluent—they grow up learning languages when your brain is still young enough to grab hold of it.
So here I sit, with Cave Man Spanish in my repertoire, and also Pig Latin, at which I am highly adept, again because I learned it before age ten. However, it does not come in as handy as I had hoped. And, I might add, would not impress anyone on Facebook.
One time I was planning a trip to Germany and a friend of mine who had served a two-year LDS mission there helped me master one line. I figured I’d be shopping, and I would look very cool and cosmopolitan if I could say, “How much is this?” in German. All the way over on the plane I practiced my line until it rolled quickly and confidently from my lips.
I went into a store. I saw a darling sweater. I grabbed the sleeve, and said to a clerk, “Wieviel ist das?”
And she answered me. In German. I stood there like the dope I was, completely unable to fathom what she said. Then I had to admit that I didn’t really speak German, I was just trying out my one lame line. Aauugh.
It was also frustrating to be on Finnair Airlines one time, trying to convince the flight attendant, who kept speaking to me in Finnish, that I was actually an American and couldn’t understand her. She kept rolling her eyes and finally walked away, as if I’d been joking. Hey, I may look Scandinavian, but the most I can do is order a… okay, actually I can’t think of anything I can order there in any of those languages. I can say “mustard” in Ukrainian, but how far will that get me?
Our daughter, Nicole, went on a mission to Norway, and speaks incredible Norwegian (according to the Norwegians we have run into). When she first left I thought I’d surprise her by learning it online while she was gone. I didn’t expect to be fluent, but I thought I could master a line or two. Wrongo. I took one look at those instructional videos filled with unfamiliar sounds and complicated wording, and turned the computer off.
Sometimes I’m tempted to laugh at package instructions from other countries, which are clearly written by someone who does not speak English very well. Then I remember I would have no chance whatsoever translating these same instructions from English into their language.
And I get irritated when someone says “tortilla soup” but pronounces the Ls, which should be Ys, as in tor-tee-ya soup. Not tore-till-uh soup. But then I remember that I grew up talking about un-thawing something from the freezer, when it was simply thaw. Not un-thaw.
So there we are. I’m jealous, mad, frustrated, irritated, and embarrassed, all at once. Hey—I may not know multiple languages, but I can juggle multiple emotions. That’s gotta count for something.
Check out my YouTube Mom videos. They’re in English, but feel free to translate these handy life hacks for all your friends.