Random language stories, bragging, plus a bit of encouragement for all of you who have told me you’d love to do what we’re doing, but you’re bad at languages.

1. I think a big part of the reason we’re here is because I had the hare-brained idea when I turned 50 to finally learn French. I took it in junior high and through junior year in high school, and I managed to learn almost nothing. I was a terrible and terribly unmotivated student. I remember when it came time to learn the subjunctive, I deliberately only learned how to avoid the subjunctive. It didn’t help matters that my older sister was brilliant in languages. She took French, Spanish, and German. Italian in college. The contrast was painful.

2.  A favorite joke.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one.   A guy is traveling through a foreign airport late at night. The only other people around are 2 maintenance workers. The traveler goes up to them and says Excuse me, do you speak English? The 2 men shake their heads no. He then asks, German? No. Arabic? No. Russian? No. The man gives up and walks away. One of the workers turns to the other and says, You know? We really should learn another language. The other one replies, Why? It didn’t do that guy any good.

3. When Mark and I travel somewhere where we don’t speak the language, we always learn the phrases of politeness. Hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me, and do you speak English? For fun, throw in Cheers!, and that was delicious! You might even get the chef to come out of the kitchen to greet you like we did in Japan.

4. In Croatia, at a farmer’s market. I wanted to ask a woman a question about her lettuces. In Croatian I said, I don’t speak Croatian, do you speak English? She say no, deutsch? I said no, français? She said no, italiano? I said no, español? She said ¡Si!!!

5. In Berlin, with our niece and nephew, a man came up to me speaking German. I said kein deutsch. (I don’t speak German.) He said Kein deutsch ist deutsch ! (No German is German!)

6. A few years ago my sister Anna was telling my perfectly bilingual friend Beatrice that she was coming to visit and we were going to travel to Spain together. Beatrice said, Great! And your sister speaks Spanish, you won’t have any problems. Anna said, no she doesn’t, she speaks French. Bea said, she speaks Spanish too. Anna said, no, I would know if she spoke Spanish, she’s my sister. Beatrice said I’ve had entire conversations with your sister in Spanish! I heard this story from each of them, they both thought it was funny.  Anna told me, I even pulled out the sister card! For the record, my spoken Spanish is pretty poor. If I manage to get myself out of the trouble I get myself into, I think I’m doing fairly well.
All this is just leading up to bragging on Mark. Mark has become fearless. Here’s a guy who is in his 50’s, who is dyslexic, who has never learned a foreign language before, and who is nonetheless learning French and having fun doing it. Btw, dyslexia my diagnosis, not an official one. He mixes up the letters in the middle of words. He one day told me it was interesting that the French word for line (as in for hanging wash) was the same the laundry itself. Um, no Mark, that’s ligne and linge. I have been know to ask to correct his texts before he hits send. His English texts. Language is not his strong suit, which is probably why he went into the visual arts. If anyone can claim to be bad at languages, it’s Mark. And if he can do it, you can too. I am convinced.

Mark used to be embarrassed to speak until one day I asked him how he feels when someone tries to speak to him in English and does a terrible job at it. I asked, are you embarrassed for them? Do you think, oh go away until you learn to speak better? Or do you think, yay, you’re trying! Let me try to meet you halfway? After that, Mark was unstoppable. That’s not to say it’s always fun. In the beginning, it hurts. It’s a slog. You have to persevere until you get to the fun part. And you still have to be willing to flat-out embarrass yourself. Play on language is the basis for many jokes. You’re going to eventually say something really funny in your second language without meaning to.  And no one likes looking like an idiot. But if you can change your mind about what being an idiot is, the world is your oyster.

I am now super delighted to tell you all that Mark has passed his written drivers test! The french drivers test is nothing like US one. Our french friends have told us it is very common for french people to fail their first time. My friend Janine said she failed four times, and that her daughter, who is in law school, said that damn test was harder than her law exams. Mark studied for 3 months, reading a thick rules of the road book, and a for dummies one, both in French. He passed on the first try, 36 out of 40. 35 is a passing grade. Now he has to take the behind-the-wheel test. That should be a cake-walk, at least language-wise, but it will have to wait until we’re back in France. We’ll be in Spain for the next 2 months, where I will get to experience the joys and inadvertent hilarity of what passes for my Spanish.


fluent cat.jpg

Mark effortlessly speaking fluent Cat


Cheers from Madrid!