Failure #16: Learn/speak a second language

Bonjour mes amis! ¿Cómo estás? Plop da chah!

I like learning. I like words. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched a notion that I might like learning words in a different language. And yet it hasn’t happened. My unilingual status could be attributed to laziness. Or my impatience. We could even pin my lack of language alternatives on my lack of practiced religion. Had my mother relapsed into Catholicism, I might’ve been forced to recite pious prose and maybe picked up a little Latin.

I have a mixed relationship with the spoken word. With visual and hearing impairments from the outset, the early years of my life are a blurry, mumbling mess. Bless Gutenberg and his press for making literature accessible. The printed word made it possible for me to pretend to understand the spoken word. If I’d had to rely on Hooked on Phonics, you wouldn’t be reading this essay. So. Yes. I think we can all agree that, over the course of my 30 years, I have mastered and conquered the English language. What about those other languages then?

Please understand, I do not believe that everyone should speak English or “American” as some might in the Western world. I appreciate the rhythms and melodies of other languages. As I walk through the cultural mosaic of this melting pot of a town, I encounter dozens of dialects from one block to another. I’ve no clue what they’re saying, but it’s beautiful. On a good day, I can understand only 65% of English as she is spoken. Stupid ears.

For the past 14 years or so, I’ve been flirting with French. In high school we were given two options: French and Spanish. In retrospect, I believe the deciding factors for kids—myself included—were field trips, cuisine, and teacher (one was a hard ass, the other relinquished power of her classroom to videos of popular movies with French connections). Being a fan of pastries and foreign language films (the one genre where subtitles are generally accepted in mixed hearing society), I chose French. Despite acing the course, I was unable to piece together a logical sentence en Français post-graduation. Oh wait, here’s one: voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir? Oh, teenagers! What won’t they say?

Without the incentive of passing marks, I do find it difficult to muster the motivation to pick up a new patois. To pursue any secondary or tertiary language seems to be an academic feat—learning for the sake of knowledge rather than practical use. I do like knowing things, though. And the actual pursuit of knowledge wouldn’t be terribly hard, what with the magic of the Internet, iPod applications and books. Retention and proficiency, there’s the tricky bit. Proficiency demands practice. Retention requires rigorous repetition. Who’s got the attention span for that?!

Now that I live in a bilingual country, I will eventually give into my sense of duty and become more acquainted with French. Casual perusals of cereal box labels will turn into late night sessions memorizing dictionaries and diacritical marks. French and I may become best pals, but I’ll never know any language as intimately as English. Of course, it’s entirely possible that we’ll all be speaking in Esperanto within the decade, rendering all romantic languages unnecessary. Klon vi opinias? Mi volas brakumi tiun scluron.

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