Sunday, April 22, 2012

Foreign languages! UGGHHH!!!!!

In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.  ~ The Innocents Abroad…. Mark Twain

 Toms' Take:

I was born to speak the English language and even that has been a struggle.  I had a speech problem as a child, trouble with the letter "S".  When I used an "S" I sounded like a serpent with a lisp. You just tried that sound didn’t you?  I remember sitting in “regular class” when the speech teacher would come in and take me “down to the room”.   I hated that -- it meant that I would spend an hour of torture with her.  She would say “Repeat after me, Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore.”  I remember thinking, "you’ve heard me talk why do you want me to say that?"   “How about Roger rode on a red roller-coaster”, the teacher would ask with a smile.  “There’s only one S in that sentence and we can work our way up from there.”  Eventually I figured out how to talk without looking like I had been electrocuted every time I used the letter S and I no longer had to leave my regular classroom.

When Sandy and my travels began taking us to foreign places, we wanted to do our best to at least try and speak the language of our host country, as it is appreciated by the locals if you at least attempt to communicate in their language.  This was like speech therapy all over again.  I enrolled in a Spanish class through our local community college adult education program.  Sandy had studied Spanish in college so I took this class with our friends Jim and Jan.  After two years the school wouldn’t let me enroll in the beginner class anymore and I registered for one of the next classes, conversational Spanish.  Speaking English was not allowed in this class and after a few attempts, I finally dropped the course altogether and decided that I would just stay close to Sandy and smile a lot.

Most of my attempts at speaking a foreign language have been laughable if not disastrous. I remember a time when Jim and I traveled from the island Roatan to the mainland of Honduras to purchase some tools for work on our property.  Almost everyone on the island of Roatan speaks English but a short 30 miles away on the mainland of Honduras, Spanish is the primary language and if you speak English here, you’re not going to get much of a response.  Jim and I both tried hard to speak Spanish, we even thought that if we talked loud and slow and added an O to the end of all our words, the locals would understand us.  This, of course, never works.  In the end we just pointed and smiled a lot and by the time we boarded the ferry to return to Roatan, we both had a headache.

The problem with trying to speak the local language is, if you walk into a place and you greet folks with “Buenos Dias”, people assume that you can speak Spanish and they respond in Spanish and of course, I don’t have a clue what they are saying as I’ve just exhausted my Spanish repository.  I give them the same stupid look I would give my speech therapist when she would say “repeat after me, sister Suzy sat on a thistle.”  Funny how you can be transported back to the past so easily. 

I have tried so many times to speak with confidence, but I always get a brain freeze.  In Italy I've learned that I can only order Lasagna or Ravioli at restaurants, as this is all I can really pronounce.   When the waiter comes to our table I invariably freeze up and in a loud slow voice I say, “Ravioli-O and wine-O, Gracias". Oh shoot -- wrong language.  The waiter would look at me as I smile sheepishly and nodding as though he understood every word, he would sweep away my menu and turn to Sandy to take her order, sure that I will never know if what he chooses to bring me is even close to what I ordered.

The French language sounds so beautiful and charming when spoken.  Someone could be describing how to unstop a toilet and it will still sound elegant.  But when someone like me is trying to speak French it sounds more like a toad that was stepped on, croaking and protesting loudly. 

We were at dinner one evening in a nice restaurant in Paris.  Sandy had ordered and it sounded like she knew what she was doing, then Jan did the same and even asked some questions.  The waiter turned to me expectantly - it was my turn to order and I was anxiously looking at the menu for something that looked familiar or that I could pronounce.  I didn’t want to have escargot and French fries again.  As the waiter continues to look at me, pencil poised expectantly over his order pad, I felt like saying “Mongo want this” and point to the menu item.  My brain froze and I slowly said, “Ravioli-O and wine-O, Gracias”.  Oh darn, I did it again!   We are in France – wrong language!  I try again. “Umm, Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore”.   Finally I just smile and point as the waiter gives me a frown and shakes his head.  I feel quite sure that he is going to season my food with spit.  I should have had the escargot again.  Oh well.  I will keep trying, and keep smiling.

 Travel Tip:  Learn at least a few key phrases in the language of the country you will be visiting.  The ability to greet and thank people in their own language, coupled with a genuine smile, is always appreciated, even if you can say nothing else!

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