Friday, September 20, 2013

Failing at Foreign Language in Three Parts

I studied French in Middle School and High School for a total of seven years. Sadly, the only French word I remember with certainty today is pamplemousse (grapefruit). 
I can also recite the Pledge of Allegiance (to the American flag) in French.  This is a skill that I am sure will come in handy in no other situation other than the one in which it was practiced. My French class happened to be scheduled for first period in Middle School and so when the Pledge of Allegiance came roaring over the loudspeakers, the faithful Francophones in our class stood up, hand over heart, and slowly recited the pledge in French. “J’engage ma fidelite des Etats Unis…”

My aptitude for foreign languages has not improved with time. Despite the fact that I married into an Italian family and have spent several months visiting Italy, I am still limited in vocabulary and comprehension. 
This is sad to me because I would very much like to be someone who speaks multiple languages. We were recently at a birthday party in the United States where an American mother talked to her daughter solely in Italian. It seemed exotic and impressive. It reminded me of friends from high school who were native Italian speakers. They spoke English most of the time, but it was always clear when they were gossiping because they would quickly switch to speaking Italian so they could exchange juicy tidbits in a privately public way. 
Clara recently asked me how many words I know in Italian. I think I could count them on two hands.
Cappello...Naso... Occhi (I learned these body part names while watching Clara's Little Pim How to learn Italian DVDs.)
Prego...Grazie (Please and thank you are always important words to know)
And then a lot of food words: Mangia-Zuppa-Cannellini-Torte-Pane-Prosciutto-Vongole (I could go on for a while with random Italian food words. I really like Italian food).
“That’s a lot of words to know,” Clara assured me. She was genuinely impressed and felt that the number of words I know in Italian are quite sufficient.
In Kindergarten, Clara has the option to study Spanish, French, or Chinese. You already know my track record with French, so that was out of the running. We seriously considered Chinese, but ultimately, Spanish won since there are several people in my extended family who are fluent Spanish speakers. I thought this would give Clara lots of practice partners.

Even though I never studied Spanish, I felt more confident with this language than the others just through sheer immersion. I have watched Dora the Explorer on occasion. I grew up in an area where many people speak Spanish. I honestly thought I could help Clara with at least the first week of Spanish studies in her Kindergarten class. But...I was wrong.
Yesterday, Clara comes home happily singing a song she learned in Spanish. I was impressed by the gusto with which she sang this song, but when I asked her what the song meant, she said, "I don't know. It's in Spanish!"
Here we were week one of Spanish class and both of us were lost in syllables and sounds that we didn't quite understand. After listening a few times, I could figure out about every other word of the song. Que means what. Tiempo means time. I thought the song was about telling time until she got to the last line of the song which Clara was confident meant "It's sunny."
A call to my cousin and multiple renditions of the song later, we finally got the translation down. Ah! Languages and their multiple meanings. It turns out tiempo could mean time... or weather. So, I am already beyond my ability to help after week one, but fortunately Tia Christa and Tia Sandra are willing tutors. 
I think I need a Spanish vocabulary children's picture book to try to keep up.

1 comment:

  1. Great post--I'm usually just the same, except occasionally I'll find myself listening to a conversation on the street and only later realize it was actually in French. It's all in your unconscious somewhere!