Today's question is pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, it will tarnish my reputation irretrievably in the eyes of thousands of people forever. Oh, well. As Lynn Anderson famously sang in 1970, "I never promised you a rose garden." Here we go:
Do you speak more than one language fluently? If so, how did you learn it?
Sigh. The short answer is "No." I hope you're happy now, Meme Mistress. Thousands of my former students the world over are disillusioned and prostrate with incredulity. Allow me to explain.
In my long career as a high school teacher (and one strange year at junior high), I used to, after giving directions, ask in several different languages, "Do you understand?". A great number of my students used to make the assumption that I spoke all of those languages (French, Spanish, Japanese, Finnish among them), an assumption I did not take special care to disabuse them of. I know enough French to be able to understand the language, to construct conversation, and to translate written French. This also amazed and stunned my students, many of whom were only in first- or second-year French.
Additionally, my sons were in Spanish for all four years of their high school careers, attending the same school at which I taught. I picked up enough Spanish from them and from living in my hometown for my whole life, a city which was home to the highest concentration of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans per capita, second only to New York City. (Although, it must be noted that most of my Spanish-speaking friends back home spoke Spanglish.) I could understand some Spanish and because it was so similar in some ways to French, I could translate it, too. It also helped that I used to read Sesame Street anthologies to the boys, and they were chock full of Spanish vocabulary. I tend to remember anything I am interested in, no matter how arcane, so Spanish stayed in a brain cubby along with birthstones, anatomy, and the lyrics to "Itchycoo Park" by The Small Faces.
Jared's and Sam's fluency in Spanish translated to a hike in their wages when they sought work in retail. Their ability to act as translator for customers was a desirable skill. Their Spanish teacher early on was a dear friend of mine, Teresa, who both boys still adore and have vowed to take a bullet for. One of the most entertaining things was when, on car trips or even errands, Jared would translate song lyrics into Spanish, even partially, so that we could sing them that way. My personal favourite: El Partido de Crying.
My father was one hundred percent Croatian, first generation American, but because his mother wanted to be an American so badly, she forbid the language to be spoken in the house. Consequently, he never really learned any, and neither did I. I'm sorry about that. I can't pass any of that on to my sons.
Some of my students claimed I didn't speak English because of the words I used and because of my correct pronunciation. "You're not from around here, are you?" they used to ask. "No, I'm not," I'd say. "How did you know?" They would look so proud, and someone would say, "You don't talk like anyone around here. You talk different. You talk proper and stuff. Where you from then?" It always killed them when I told them I was from the next town over. Sometimes I do miss that; they're so easy.