Monday, February 7, 2011

Busting Right Through the Language Barrier



A recent opportunity surfaced that allowed me to use the Rosetta Stone
language series for free. Dozens of languages were only a click away
from my attempts at mastery and perhaps I could use them if I ever traveled the world.  While I had already taken two years of
French in High School and could proficiently conjugate verbs and announce to foreign strangers that I wanted to go to the beach in a blue car, I was curious
about other languages. The blue car phrase was about as far as my
French skills would take me. Of course... do you really need to go any
further than the beaches of the French Riviera? I say no.  A few years ago, I did, in fact, take my kids to Paris and was actually able to maneuver throughout the city without speaking any useful French.  The kids had no need for language skills when one could simply point at all the things they needed.... ice cream, a ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower, crepes with Nutella and a hotel outside of the 18th ward.  I did almost board all of us on an outgoing train to nowhere and realized quickly that it could have been helpful to understand the language a bit better.  Rosetta Stone would have been helpful back then.  So now that it was available to me.... what would my new language be???  I selected Italian and hoped that
soon I would know what Andrea Boccelli was singing to me as I floated
lifeless in my hot-tub in the late hours of the night. Since I'm a
read ahead kind of person, I skipped the first few tests and jumped
right over to the Spanish lessons and realized that the images and
learning strategy was the same, no matter the language. The only thing
that was different was the words. The same boy was jumping from a table
and the same group of children were throwing balls. The words to
describe these actions changed from language to language, but these were
definitely the same people. I had friends in foreign languages and it
was comforting. I realized the choice of statements I was practicing was
geared at basic actions of daily living and I quickly learned how to
describe running mothers, jumping children and red cars. A peculiar
phrase included in the training was one declaring that the boy is under the airplane. For the life of me, I can't figure out why one would ever need this phrase. However,
it seems to be a common phrase in all languages. I've yet to find the
opportunity to use it properly and once while on Delta, I shared this
phrase with my children, only to the dismay of the Italian couple
sitting in front of me frantically looking for the heinous act occurring
below deck.   In fact, as I think back, most of my opportunities to use key foreign language phrases have been on airplanes.  I was once seated next to a blind man on a plane who was reading a braille version of Siddhartha and the journey to enlightenment.  Curious about the book and unable to resist conversation on the two hour flight,  I engaged this man in an oral report on his book.  Come to find out, my new friend was French.  You know I couldn't resist and I had to practice my one French phrase.  He smiled and I knew that we could both clearly see how ridiculous I looked with my total lack of foreign language skills.  So... perhaps it's time to return to Rosetta Stone and try to get past the first two tests.   Until then,  the boy remains under the airplane and English, Piglatin and pointing are my top languages.  

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