Mastering modern languages

I believe there are two types of people in this world
– those who can speak a foreign language and those who
cannot.
I am one of the

cannots.

I believe there are two types of people in this world – those who can speak a foreign language and those who cannot.

I am one of the “cannots.”

Oh, it’s not like I haven’t tried. Well, truthfully, I was required to try by the California parochial school system, which apparently believes that every person who walks their hallowed halls should speak a language other than the one they were taught as toddlers. I’ll bet there are some nuns somewhere regretting that decision after I left school.

But anyway, I tried. First I attempted French. The few phrases I managed to learn were mangled. My teacher could not understand a word I was trying to say.

In fact, she told my parents I was the only student in her millions of years of teaching that she actually believed would never speak a foreign language and should be exempted from trying.

Turns out she was one smart cookie.

When I moved on to high school I tried Spanish. I tried it for three years. I spent the first two mastering phrases like “donde esta Los Banos” whenever I wanted to ask where the bathroom was. You can imagine how confusing it was to me when people kept giving me directions like “take 152 east.”

I spent my third year trying to convince the new Spanish teacher that I absolutely would die if I didn’t pass Spanish. I’d never get into a good college. I’d never be able to figure out street names in L.A. And I’d be with her again my senior year.

I think the threat worked. She finally told me that if I could convince an hombre at the school to give me directions to the bathroom, she’d pass me.

It took a few hours, but I figured out her trick. I went to an all-girls school. We didn’t have any hombres there. I ended up at a college that didn’t require three years of a foreign language.

Of course, when I married, I married my opposite. Harry grew up speaking Spanish to his grandparents – so he’s pretty fluent. But frankly, I didn’t really worry about it. And then Junior learned to spell.

As any parent knows, when your child learns to spell, you lose all privacy. You can no longer discuss the state of your friend’s marriage, how awful the kids down the street are or even debate whether to go to Taco Bell or McDonald’s without your child throwing in his two cents.

And that’s why Harry suggested pig latin. Now, pig latin sounds easy. In theory, you take the first letter of a word, put it on the end and add the sound “ay.” But for pete’s sakes, we are talking about me. I can’t even find a bathroom without driving up 152 – how the heck was I going to understand pig latin?

Harry of course, is the King of Pig Latin. He can really let the pig latin fly when he wants. So when we first started this experiment, our conversations would go something like this:

Harry: Ooyay antway otay ogay otay Acotay Elbay?

Me: What? Er, utway?

Harry: Ooyay antway otay ogay otay Acotay Elbay?

Me: Utway?

Harry: Oh for pete’s sakes – do you want to go to Taco Bell?

Junior: Yay! Taco Bell for dinner!

So you can see that this wasn’t really working. But we kept trying. Unlike my French teacher, Harry believes that I can do anything. Poor guy – he’s delusional. But we kept doing the pig latin – or at least Harry did. I mainly practiced many different ways to say “utway.”

And then last week it happened. A breakthrough. We had a conversation that went something like this:

Harry: Ooday ooyay antway otay ogay otay the eachbay?

Me: Utway?

Harry: Ooday ooyay antway otay ogay otay the eachbay?

Me: Utway?

Junior: Mom, Dad wants to know if we want to go to the beach. Just say “essyay.”

See? A breakthrough. Well, maybe it wasn’t MY breakthrough – but at least we know that Junior will be able to attend a college that requires three years of a foreign language. Now if I could just figure out how to have a private conversation again.

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