I Have a First Language

Beyond English, I am not a language person.  If you know me in real life, you know that I am at times revoltingly pedantic about Proper English.  This blog is casual and conversational, despite my superpower ability to simultaneously put both Strunk and White to shame.  Unfortunately, my brain seems to have some sort of quota for language skills and I hit its capacity with my mad English skillz – probably by the age of twelve. 

Growing up, I studied Spanish to the extent that one can in the pasty and desolate tundra.  Our curriculum was heavy on coloring, strongly supported by the A/V department, featured a fair amount of candy, and was rounded out with sides of stiff dancing and awkward skits.  To this day, I am not sure what it was that we were learning, but in no way was it espanol. How sad, because I sure was fantastico at it.  Apparently I am very good at coloring, watching television, and eating candy.  My dancing would have held me back a bit, but we were graded on a curve for that one.  The tundra is not known for its wild and crazy moves.  It’s hard to get a good shimmy going on when your feet are clad in mukluks.

Since I didn’t really know Spanish, when I hit undergrad I decided to start fresh with a new language.  Sadly, I also didn’t really know that part of what was preventing me from developing a fluency in Spanish was my (lack of) ability.  So!  Misguidedly, I decided it would be a fantastico idea to enroll in a language of which I had no knowledge or background AND doesn’t use the Roman alphabet.   Yeah, that went about as well as treating the measles with maple syrup would.

I tried so hard to be successful.  One of my professors told me that if he graded based on effort I would be at the top of the class. Unfortunately, he graded based on ability and I was barely clinging to a ‘C.’  This was not good news to a slightly OCD, recovering grade grubber.  Let’s just say my foreign language requirement really helped me to mature as a person.

I decided it would be a great idea to take a quick jaunt to a Spanish-speaking country.  You know, that Spanish I don’t speak.  However, it turns out that I can somewhat muddle along.  When people want my money (and they do – the exchange rate rocks my calcetines) there is motivation to work with me and we totally communicate. 

Something neat about me is that I understand enough Spanish to often know what I’m being asked when posed a question – and I auto-respond.  Um, too bad I don’t always auto-respond in Spanish.  I sort languages into two categories: English and Not English.  You would think that a person wouldn’t mash Slavic and Spanish into the same sentence, but I am amazing like that.  In addition to the languages I’ve studied formally, I’m also enough of a dork that I’ve picked up dribs and drabs of additional languages here and there.  When asked a question in Spanish, I was just as likely to agree with a ja, da, or oui as with a si.  The question?  What is: Do you naturally suck at foreign languages?


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