Chez Shaffner

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Mind a Muddle

Today my mind contains a muddle of Franglais, Spanglish, Engtalian, Italnish, and every other permutation of the one language I (seem to) know and the three I've learned over the years to the same pathetic adolescent levels.

How did I arrive here? The proximate cause is the adult education course I began last Monday and continued yesterday: Low Intermediate French, because they cancelled Beginning II, the course I intended to take in the name of Preparing For Our Honeymoon.

The disaster stems from my remarkable accomplishments in the little-known academic field of Foreign Languages at Third-Grade Comprehension. My story begins with my roots: mono-lingual parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. Two first cousins have a Bolivian father, but that had little impact on my linguistic upbringing.

My first exposure (other than Sesame Street, natch) to the study of foreign languages came by way of a most unusual test they administered in seventh grade. As I recall, it consisted principally of incoherent nasal tones and multiple-guess options for which combination of letters might lay beneath. I was confident I scored 0%, but somehow I qualified for eighth grade French. After four years of study I was well enabled to talk about the respective countries of origin for Alain and Celeste, and I knew to say that Claude washed himself the hair rather than his hair. Inexplicably enough I also knew my instructor’s brother’s U.S. army serial number (a long story). As for securing myself a hotel room for the night? Or to say that I prefer my steak cooked medium rare? Forget about it.

I managed two years of high school Spanish as well, but failed Harvard’s absurd placement exam and enjoyed the privilege of reviewing everything I had already learned in high school. By senior year, my French and Spanish forgotten, I enrolled in an intensive Italian course. Five days per week, extensive language labs, yadda yadda, and I could say that I had an exactly overlapping Venn diagram of grammatical knowledge in three languages. Yippee.

The acme of my linguistic accomplishment thus far remains an afternoon meal in the eighth arrondissement in Paris wherein I managed to transact three courses without my waitress once responding in English; I give credit not to my speaking abilities, but to her profound generosity.

A colleague in Puerto Rico once told me that I spoke my elementary Spanish with an Italian accent. Better than an American one, no? I asked.

And so I return to my homework for next week. We’re learning the past tense. I’ve learned it five times before in three Romance languages. Let’s hope this time it sticks. Or maybe I should just give up and take beginning Portuguese next semester…


At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RA11347694. At least, that's how I have remembered it all these years. Rather unfortunate. I would have preferred to remember verb conjugations, I think.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger NormalGuyNormalGirl said...

That's the one. It's the kind of information I employ each and every day of my life.


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