Sunday, February 7, 2010

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

It's been one of my favorite jokes for years.

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language?


American.

The past two days have been filled with envy --- a rare emotion for me --- for friends who started studying multiple languages early and kept it up for life.

We spent Saturday afternoon at a beach barbecue with our surfer friend from France, Julien, and his family. His parents speak French, not much Spanish, less English. Laura comfortably slipped into the afternoon conversing in French, Spanish and translating into English when I needed it, as did another friend, Ana. Languages flowed like a river, starting in one language, moving into a second, explaining in a third.


I want that.

It's always been my belief, wish, hope to speak a second language. I want fewer obstacles in connecting with the person sitting next to me, regardless of language. I desperately wanted it for my sons, Dustin and Dylan, but it was rarely offered in the schools and I just didn't pull it off.

Sorry, kids.

Luckily Granddaughter Sasha, who lives in Puerto Vallarta, will be trilingual. At 18 months she understands Romanian, Spanish and English. Her first word was Spanish (mas!) but she's already beginning to babble in English. I'm grateful her parents, Dustin and Camelia, are committed to teaching her multiple languages from birth, which is so much easier than trying to learn it at my age.

Tonight headed for dinner at AsiaAzul, an Asian restaurant in nearby Emiliano Zepata. The restaurant was closed so we headed up to the owner's house to ask when he'd be open again.
Within minutes of conversation, Laura figured out that not only does he also speak English, Spanish (of course), probably Vietnamese, but that he's more comfortable speaking French. And off they went again, speaking in a language I couldn't understand.

Despite my envy --- or perhaps because of it -- the past few days have made me even more committed to becoming fluent in a second language.

As of today, two months into our second season at Arroyo Seco, I can pretty much understand what people are saying. And sometimes they can understand me. I'm rarely speaking in complete sentences yet, and I'm mostly speaking in the present tense.

But, dang it, I'm speaking. I'm listening. I'm learning.

Today at lunch we toasted to my first solo conversation with Tia Melly, one of the elders in town who I've been dying to joke with since I first met her two years ago.

So, Tengo esperanza. I have hope.

I have hope that I won't be 80 before I call myself fluent in a second language. Maybe then I'll consider going for a third.

2 comments:

Judit Radnóti said...

Well done! Just keep going!

Anonymous said...

Many Americans speak more than one language, but many estadounidenses, or USA citizens, only speak one. America is not just the USA.