Friday, July 24, 2009

Foreign Languages

I was sitting here reading blogs with the doors and windows open and I heard this very loud talking in a foreign language. Pepper the dog was barking and I thought what the hell is this? So I wandered over to the front door, and saw that the guy who lives across the street (I hear he's Russian; he's been living there 5 years and I've been planning on introducing myself for 5 years now) had stopped his car in the drive and went to get his mail, while the radio loudly buzzed out in Russian. I didn't even know you could get Russian radio stations.

It reminded me of my first year of college. I went to college in Toronto. My roommate lived in Ontario but was of Dutch descent, and they spoke Dutch in her home. So she always had the radio tuned to Dutch stations (I guess it's no different than the Russian station this guy was listening to). Every morning we would wake up to her radio alarm, with people speaking in Dutch.

Which reminds me of a party I went to last week. The hosts gave a party for their friend Wanda, also from Holland, who has been living here for many years. Wanda has a best friend, Wilma, who is visiting her for about a month this summer. So it was kind of a "meet Wilma" party. I talked to Wanda and Wilma and asked them how often they see each other. They said one will visit the other every 3-5 years. I asked how they keep in touch between visits and they said some email but they call each other every week. They said they just liked to hear each other's voices. Wanda has been living in the states for about 18 years, I'd guess, and Wilma was her best friend in Holland, and they remain best friends. They seemed to enjoy each other very much. They would be conversing in English and then they would just switch to Dutch, and as I sat there listening, I wondered "do they realize they just switched languages?"

Which reminded me of a French class I took in college. I had taken Spanish all through high school. But since the products in Ontario were labeled in both French and English, I decided I should try French. So what we had was a freshman class of kids who had all taken Spanish in high school. And the first day, the French professor told us there would be no speaking in English. None. So as we struggled along to have conversations, if we didn't know a French word, we automatically used the Spanish word, and we all understood each other cause we had all taken Spanish, and the French teacher spent the year yelling "NO ESPANOL!" The funny thing is that none of us realized we were doing it.

I really marvel at people who speak more than one language.


anno said...

This cracked me up, reminded me of the time when I was living in Germany on one of those junior year abroad programs. A friend of mine who was living in France wanted to visit me, so I called her to figure out the arrangements. Except when I called, she wasn't there, just her only-French-speaking host-mama.

I don't speak French. Not a word.

But instead of reverting to pidgin-English, I insisted on speaking to her in the only foreign language I knew: German.

Crazy, but there you have it.

I still want to learn to speak French someday.

Laura said...

In college and high school I studied Spanish, French and Italian, all to a very no-impressive degree. When I moved to Israel and started studying Hebrew, my sentences would come out in Hebrew, Spanish, French, Italian and English.

What a great story of a friendship. Could it be because their names are so similar?

Sandy said...

I would so love to be fluent in a second language. I studied Frence and German in school for several years each and don't speak either. I kid myself that I can read a bit of both but not to any great extent.

But when I travel, I really, really try to learn...French, Portugese & Italian...and I'm told my pronunciation is pretty good. I find people always appreciate when I at least try to speak their language. If I were ever to live in a country where English was not the main language, I know I would do my best to become fluent even though I know it would be difficult. Being immersed in the language seems the only way to really learn.

I, too, am so envious and fascinated by people who speak more than one language.

The Last Post said...

I loved your post. I wish I could speak another langauge and actually started to learn French but that was a long time ago. I used to talk to a woman from Scotland on the telephone and she had a lovely accent, I sometimes wonder what my accent sounds like. Not as smooth as her though.

Tammy Howard said...

I taught ESOL for a few years. I had a student once talk about how difficult it was to actually LIVE in a foreign country and NEED to rely on a language not your own. She said, "I know everyone SPEAKS two or three languages, but to have to RELY on it is something different entirely." I told her that everyone in the US assuredly does NOT speak two or three languages. She could make no sense of that.

Jeanie said...

Wanda and Wilma. I have visions of very old fan dancers. Do they have fan dancers in Holland?

Years ago when I was staying at a B&B in Boston, I met a guy from Switzerland who spoke fluent English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. He said in that in Europe, you almost have to, because people travel so much. I was embarrassed I only had English to my credit. When I went to France I really tried to master a little bit of the language (thanks to my Rick Steves phrase book), only to get out a few tortured words, and have them revert to English.

After traveling there (and Japan, too -- same thing) it really makes me see how our education system is lacking in at least not pushing through one language (pick your poison) from grade school on. In this world, it sure would help.

Cool post. I love this one!

Perpetual Chocoholic said...

I could always understand my friend and her mother when they spoke Italian to each other because it was always peppered with the odd English word. Made it easier to follow.