Q: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
Q: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
Q: What do you call a person who speaks one language?
A: An American!
Now before you think I missed my calling as a stand-up comedian (my wit is undeniable, I know), I have to admit that joke is actually quite old. Sadly, it is also quite true. And I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I fit the stereotype!
It's not for lack of exposure or education. I studied Latin for eight years (two in middle school, four in high school, and two in university), but not much remains in my noggin besides the unforgettable amo, amas, amat drills. I also had two years of Spanish in university, but after one scarring semester with a septuagenarian megalomaniac, I retained nothing beyond ¿Dónde está el baño? While I can imagine this will be a very important phrase to know whenever I'm in a Spanish-speaking country, more's the pity that I can't remember anything else since I come into contact with a lot of Spanish-speakers in my current job.
|Watching the World Cup match in 2010 while in Germany |
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
My husband is half-German, you see, and his mother's side of the family actually lives in Bavaria. He spent every other summer growing up in a medieval, fully-walled town in the heart of Germany, and even now as an adult, the American intonation fades after a few days in country and his natural Frankish accent takes over. From what I gather, the Frankish accent has about the same reputation as a strong southern accent in America. I find that factoid rather amusing!
But I digress. Currently, I am the only one on that side of the family who can't sprechen die deutsch even a little bit, a fact which saddens me every time we visit his family. It's frustrating to not be able to have direct conversations with Oma, who does not speak any English, or have more than a halting, short conversation with his aunt and uncle. Mind you, I know enough words now to understand most of what's being said even if I can't fully participate (so no talking behind my back!), but one-sided conversations are not really conversations. After having four of our German friends visit us last summer, I resolved that I was finally going to put my nose to the grindstone and learn German.
So my husband bought the Rosetta Stone: German edition as a birthday present for moi last summer. And between working full-time, taking university classes part-time, the holidays, social life, and everything else, my progress has been painfully slow. With less than 40 days until our Italy/Germany trip this summer, I've had to kick things into high gear the past few weeks.
I'm finding that German is easy and yet difficult. English derives many words from German, which makes recognition of many words easy, but grammatically, German is difficult for an English-speaker to learn. Der, die, das - gah, those gender specific articles will be the death of me! And pronunciation? I feel like I'm coughing up a lung every time I try to correctly pronounce the -ch sound, and my tongue ties into knots trying to trill an r or two. But there are some things about German that I really, really like. In many ways English lacks words to describe an exact idea, which is why we've stolen such German words as wanderlust and schadenfreude to make up for it. And there's no denying that German just sounds, well, cool! It's guttural, commanding, and earthy. (See the light-hearted video above if you actually have never heard German before!)
Thankfully most Germans speak a fair amount of English (especially those under the age of 40), and with my interpreter-husband in tow, I've never had any problems communicating with Germans. But as I don't want my future children to end up monolingual, I hope that the Rosetta Stone lessons will continue to help me learn German. I may not learn enough to carry on deep, philosophical conversations with Oma in July, but at the very least I'll be able to point out that meine Schuhe sind blau, or die schwartze Katze ist unter dem Tisch. Be impressed, y'all.
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
Do you speak more than one language or are you learning a new language now? Have you ever had difficulties communicating in another country when you don't know the native language?
|Linking up with Bonnie and Van every Tuesday!|