My Sad Failure with Language

I’m SO envious of people who speak more than one language…and no, Pig Latin does not count.

Acquiring a second language has been a goal of mine for a long time but I’ve made abysmal progress. This is primarily because, well…I’m lazy.

Don’t you even tell me to learn Spanish ’cause “it’s so easy”. That’s just nonsense. I’ve been down THAT road.

Visit the link to hear spoken Tlingit.

Outside of the naughty words, nothing much has stuck.

I had limited success with Latin (mostly forgotten other than obscure phrases which pop into my mind at inappropriate moments).

I enjoyed slighter better achievement levels with Russian (don’t ask me now, other than odd words like biblioteca and spasiba…nada left to curl off the tongue).

There’ve been others – too numerous and awful to list.

Navajo and Tlingit friends still try to get me to pronounce words just so they can laugh at my expense. That happens with ANY tonal language, thank you very much. I’m from Missouri, dipthongs are our specialty.

It’s not surprising that I did well in American Sign Language…because, well duh, it’s not verbal. I got pretty good at finger spelling, as long as you weren’t in a hurry, but don’t ask me to read sign because I never did that practice-in-a-mirror thing.

I actually had a deaf guy ask me once if I was stupid or just slow. It took me forever to figure out each letter he signed and he laughed his ass off the entire time.

Yeah, we’re still friends.

Which brings me to my dilemma: exactly how much vocabulary makes you functional in another language?

Is it the number of words or is it the ability to make your meaning understood?

I’m going with making myself understood because then I can include kinesics and motions and foot stamping and all that other good stuff that helps me to communicate with others when we don’t share the same words.

My DA (that’s Diabolical Aunt for those of you who’ve been inattentive) got ALL the language genes on this side of the family. She can spout fluently in multiple tongues – probably at the same time.

I flounder alone in my single poorly articulated murmurings of watered-down American English.

I am not bitter.

Am not.

Tags: language, linguistics, American Sign Language, ASL, signing

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  1. #1 by Anonymous on December 5, 2011 - 7:38 pm

    I would LOVE to speak multiple languages, and be able to sign. That would be awesome. I also can't- but I haven't tried as hard as you have. My son wants to study languages in college this week. We'll see.

  2. #2 by Lesann Berry on December 5, 2011 - 10:02 pm

    Hey Anonymous-I wish your son good luck. If he's like most college kids, he'll change his mind half a dozen times, but another language is ALWAYS a good idea. You just never know when it'll be exactly the skill that gets you somewhere good.You and I will be stuck at home, being not bitter, waiting for the postcards.

  3. #3 by Naomi Bulger on December 5, 2011 - 11:29 pm

    Oh, I would so long to be fluent in many languages. I met a woman a couple of years ago who had such a gift she could pick up ANY language. She worked for the government in intelligence, and could be sent to an obscure part of Lebanon and speak the local dialect so well she was confused for a native. I'm ok at picking up languages, but lazy. I studied New Testament Greek in university and got high distinctions in exegesis, yet all I can do now is conjugate the word "to loose" – I can't even remember how the letters work.Recently I discovered Rosetta Stone, and I LOVE the way they teach language. No lists, no translations, no verb conjugations. It's a lot more intuitive and I'm finding it a lot easier. Like you, I like to use "can be understood" as a definition for speaking another language. Makes me feel more adept than I really am.

  4. #4 by Tameri Etherton on December 6, 2011 - 4:36 am

    I'm so with you! I've taken French three or four times (really, after the second time, why keep count?) and just tonight I was commenting on FB and had to look up the French spelling for two. Really? Yeah, I'm just that language stupid.I do know a bit of sign language, though. That's mostly because my grandma is deaf and she always had the best gossip. Don't tell anyone, but she really can read lips, even though she tells everyone she can't. Whoo! Love that lady!Rosetta stone, eh? I'm so checking that out. I want to be fluent in French. That's on my bucket list. And more than just the swear words. Which, now that I think of it, I know in five languages. Huh. Why is it those stick, but not practical things like, why is my food looking at me?

  5. #5 by Nancy J Nicholson on December 6, 2011 - 1:07 pm

    I'll let you know how my brush up with spanish works when I get immersed into it in the islands.

  6. #6 by Lesann Berry on December 6, 2011 - 5:41 pm

    Nancy, I do believe that immersion is an ideal way to learn a language. If you HAVE to use it, then you'll learn it. I keep telling myself this, but then I avoid situations where it would be applied. lol

  7. #7 by Lesann Berry on December 6, 2011 - 5:44 pm

    @Naomi I've met people like your acquaintance, where language just seemed to make sense to them in some indescribably way. Those people always make me feel like I "should" get it but for some reason can't.I actually twitched when I read the word conjugate in your post…a physical reaction to some bad memory I'm sure.I've heard good things about Rosetta, but I think it depends on your learning styles and what you want to do with language. I'd like to learn language by osmosis and just wake up knowing them ALL.Then I'd eavesdrop. A lot.

  8. #8 by Lesann Berry on December 6, 2011 - 5:49 pm

    @Tameri I'm so with you! I can remember doing endless drills in Latin and now, all I can recall is amo/amas/amat. I catch myself chanting it in the car sometimes and high school was a good long while back!Deaf culture is really fascinating and I find the lack of emphasis on verbalization so interesting. Lip reading is an excellent skill. I had a friend in high school that had severe hearing loss and she could lip read (I swear!), long distance! Insane distances! It was sorta freaky (I still love you Pam!).I think the naughty words stick because they're more fun to say and imminently more practical. For example: what the *%&# are you looking at me for?! (I mean the fish on your plate of course)I would take one of Douglas Adams' babblefish. Now there's a useful critter.

  9. #9 by Rachel Morgan on December 6, 2011 - 6:17 pm

    I'm not very good with foreign languages. I desperately wanted to speak French, so I started taking classes in high school, but quit after two years… I think I don't have enough confidence to just go for it and speak out loud and (possibly) make a fool of myself. Because I think the only way to learn properly is to practise, practise, practise speaking it.

  10. #10 by Lesann Berry on December 6, 2011 - 6:55 pm

    I think jumping in and being forced to use the language is what would work best for me.Of course if learning another language by the seat of your pants is like one of those adventure books from the 80s, the kind where you have to make a decision and then flip forward to the designated page…well, I always died within five pages.Maybe I should just stay home.

  11. #11 by Ruth Madison on December 6, 2011 - 9:15 pm

    So familiar to me! I am terrible at languages, but love them so much. I also was better at ASL than any other language I tried to learn.I've been doing Hindi with Rosetta Stone and I've gotten to a point where I'm somewhat conversational and I am SO excited by that. lol. Took a while, though.

  12. #12 by Lesann Berry on December 6, 2011 - 9:39 pm

    That's awesome Ruth! I love to hear Hindi spoken because its such a lyrical intonation. I guess that's true of all languages, but the ones that sound most different from English seem more notably musical.There is such a huge difference between learning a language in the context of home and friends, rather than a formalized classroom, and that makes a difference too.Good for you! *clapping*

  13. #13 by Tom Windsor on December 7, 2011 - 7:45 pm

    Interestingly, you do not say specifically which languages we should be learning. Learn Spanish and you’re at a loss in Germany, learn French and you’re illiterate in Russia, learn Chinese and you can’t ask for an ice cream in Japan. So which language should we be learning? I would respectfully suggest that you take a look at Esperanto, a relatively new language which is easy to learn and use.Esperanto is celebrating its 125th anniversary next year. I’m sure we’ll hear more about it shortly.Esperanto is relatively easy to learn, because it does not have the irregularities other languages have.

  14. #14 by Lesann Berry on December 8, 2011 - 12:44 am

    Thanks for visiting, Tom. Good point about never knowing enough languages to be comprehended everywhere. I don't really have a language preference, any other would be nice. Something functional would be helpful, so I'll go check out Esperanto on your recommendation.Thanks!

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