What if you could wake up tomorrow and be able to speak a new language?  Suppose you did not have to work at it at all.  There would be no boring repetition of words and phrases.  You would not have to study rules of grammar.  You would not have to learn to conjugate.  You would not take home lessons to write out.  The language would just be there at your command.  Your speech would be fluent and your understanding clear.  What language would you choose?

My best guess is that most people would consider a language of their ancestors.  If they came from Poland, then Polish might be their first choice.  In a city like Chicago, with a large population of Polish immigrants and descendants, this would make perfect sense.  If you have a relative that speaks the language, wouldn’t you be pleased to speak to them in their own language?  Your Polish grandmother would be so proud, and you, of course, would take great joy in this.

My elementary school was largely populated by kids of Irish descendent.  The Irish priests and an Irish American Bishop, who was also pastor, of course attracted a large student body made up of blond and red-haired children.  I can not say I ever heard any Gaelic, however.  I suppose some spoke it.  Many had a brogue so thick, I could not understand them.  Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing Irish language.

For much of my life, I lived in a German American neighborhood.  My maternal grandmother spoke German and would sometimes gossip (I thought it was gossip, anyway) with other old German-speaking neighbors.  The parish we lived in after the grade school years, was largely German American.  It was started by German immigrants who built the church.  For decades there was a mass in German.  I thought it would be cool to know this language, especially years later.  I was encouraged to take Latin in high school, however.

This proved to be a big disappointment as we grew up and took part in German fests.  There was Mai Fest and Oktoberfest and Rosenmontag and more feasts then you can imagine.  We learned songs in German and sang along at dances, festivals and anywhere a band was playing.  Unfortunately, my conversation was limited to Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen und zwei Bier bitte!

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Years later as many Hispanic groups arrived and there were many more Spanish speakers, it seemed to me that learning Spanish would make far more sense.  The old Germans I knew were dying out, my grandmother was gone and I had less occasion to speak German.

Now there is a large Spanish population from Puerto Rico, Mexico and a variety of Spanish-speaking countries.  I have neighbors from Guatemala and Colombia nearby.  There are ethnic restaurants all around and in the summer, Spanish music fills the air in our area of the city.  There are so many cultures I could learn, if I just knew this one language. It seems like a logical choice.

What is the second language of your community?  Is there even a second language?  Perhaps you are in an area where you only hear English and there is no immigrant population or descendants to pass along another language.  Even if this is so, would it not be great to learn another language and travel to countries where this language is spoken.

In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish or even Polish have given way to another.  All of the above would be interesting and certainly useful. Whether I would travel to countries where these languages were spoken, or use them right here in our local communities, I still have a different interest in a language. I would never have thought to learn it just a decade ago.  Friendship has become the determining factor, however.

A previous job of mine brought in interns from other countries, particularly France.  As a result I made a number of friends from France, and I even got to know other friends and family members of these co-workers.  It was not just that I learned some of the culture.  Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities.  Of course, we talked French politics and sports.  Indeed I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues.  But in the process, something important happened.

This way?

This way?

Now one of my best friends in the world is a Frenchman.  We have gone on many adventures here and in Europe.  I have visited his home and the home of his parents.  We have visited all across Alsace.  For eight years, France has been on my vacation list.  It turns out that the language I would like to know tomorrow when I wake up is French.  It is not about the neighborhood I live in, the ancestors I have, or the neighbors that have recently moved in.  It is not about my grandmother.  It is not about a particular parish.  It is not about countries I may someday visit.

The language I would like to know is all about my friends.  In fact, it is about one of my best friends, and it does not matter that he is fluent in English.  Some of my closest friends are French and I wish I could more fully participate in our adventures whenever we meet.  Is there a better reason than friendship to know another language?

Categories: Family, Friendship, language, Rich Paschall

Tags: , , , , , , ,

32 replies

  1. I am French Canadian (my mother emigrated here with her family in 1920) and apparently her mother refused to speak French in the home. Perhaps because the French Canadians were considered subhuman (the way the Irish were a decade or so earlier) and if she didn’t speak French, neither did her children. I know she spoke it with her friends; when I was very small she and I would go visiting and her friends would greet her at the door, “ah Joule….” and I had no idea what was said beyond that point. When I came home I started calling Nana “Joule” (which was the French for Julia) and mother was appalled. “her name is JULIA. Where did you get THAT from?” The visits with Nana to her friends stopped at that point.

    I can speak a passable Canadian, and now and then throw out a truly Gallic shrug, but my best foreign language is Southern. Give me ten minutes with a couple from Kentucky or Tennessee and I am lost, lost…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I learned Spanish, which I’ve since forgotten, sign language, again long gone, or mostly gone, French, defunct. I love learning and it was great to converse in another language. It’s definitely something you have to keep doing or you forget more’s the pity.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’d love to be able to speak Gaelic. Not just because of ancestral ties, but because it sounds so musical to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The language of my community? It would be easier to say languages. We speak Solothurn German (Soloturnertütsch) which is our local dialect. I came to Switzerland 50 years ago from London, am a cockney, and had a basic knowledge of German from 2 years school, but soon discovered that the German spoken in Switzerland is mainly Swiss German with its many dialects according to where you live. In school high german is spoken so that the kids grow up with a language that everyone should understand. Half an hour away everyone begins to speak French. It begins when you travel West from Biel and approach Neuchâtel and down to Geneva where they all speak French. My youngest son works in Biel for a Swiss government ministry and speaks french mainly. Down in the south Italian is the main language and if you go to the East in the mountains, well they have about 3-4 dialects of Romansch which is a mixture of a bit of everything, but I hear latin in it. They also speak Swiss German, otherwise no-one would understand them. Me? I am a Brit and still speak english, but daily Swiss German with the kids and my husband, although they also have a knowledge of english. I can also speak Franglais, which should be french but has a touch of english. I can speak and understand Italian and as a sideline learnt Russian for 12 years, but with lack of practice it has suffered. I tried Arabic, but that is a difficult one.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Growing up in Southern California in mid-century 1900’s. you’d think I would have learned Spanish. Instead, I took 6-8 years of Latin in school, followed by 4 years of French and a year of German. I am still able to (sort of) translate written French, but the others were wasted effort. As the demographics of the area evolve now, I really wish I knew Spanish — with roughly half the population immigrants, it would be most helpful!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. For sheer usefulness, I’d go with Spanish, but if I had to go back to Israel because y’know, America is a dictatorship and they are going to kill me, then definitely Hebrew.

    Liked by 2 people

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