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 the rules of grammar. You would not have to learn to conjugate. You would not bring 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 the 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 descent. 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, that I could not understand them. Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing the Irish language.

Another Fest – Beer or Bière or Bier or Cerveza or Piwo – no matter, just point

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. I was encouraged to take Latin in high school, however. “Veni Vidi vici.”

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 than 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. Roomie often encouraged me to study Spanish.

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.

Drink local – Germany

In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish, or even Polish has given way to another. All of the above would be interesting and certainly useful. Whether I would travel to countries where these languages are 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 a dozen years 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 cultures.  Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities. Of course, we talked about French politics and sports. I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues.  But in the process, something important happened.

French cuisine and fine wine

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 a dozen years, France has been on my vacation list, although I missed the trip in 2020 due to the pandemic. 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 who 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

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13 replies

  1. Decades ago, David and I visited North Wales where we found there were many Welsh speakers still. I remember catching a local bus in Caernarfon where the driver greeted local passengers in Welsh but switched to English for us, the obvious tourists. Later in that journey our bus passed another going in the opposite direction. Both buses stopped and the two drivers held an animated conversation in Welsh except for “Have you got a spanner?” from one of them. Never did find out why it was needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you can still find Welsh speakers. There seems to be an effort to preserve it, although English maybe more common by now,

      Liked by 1 person

      • When we were in the UK, more than 30 years ago now we noticed that in Wales and Scotland signs were all in dual languages. I think Welsh was more widely spoken in the north than the south but when we were there there was a lot of anti British sentiment due to Poll Tax.

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  2. I have zero aptitude for languages. I was told long ago that because I’m musical, I should be good at them, but this has proved to untrue. During a decade in Israel, I never learned to speak properly. I understood much more than I could say and I can still understand a good deal of it if they speak more slowly. The “new” Hebrew (it’s an evolving language) is spoken so fast, even Owen, who was fluent, can only pick up pieces of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am afraid if I lived somewhere for a decade I still would not be a good speaker. John has been here five years and a half years and speaks English well. He knew a little when he arrived.


  3. Hardly any irish people speak gaelic now. If you live on the aaron islands, they do speak it there, but a lot of people do not know irish. I am one of them. I don’t speak irish and forget most of what I learned in school. Xx

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    • Decades ago in the Irish neighborhood here, I doubt that many knew it then. It’s less likely any know it now. It is sad that some languages are not preserved.


      • Yiddish has also vanished almost entirely and I think it will be completely gone very soon.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It would be nice if these vanishing languages could be preserved. We certainly have the technology to preserves the sounds and inflections that go with these languages.


          • Yiddish exists in books, but dead languages do disappear. Who speaks Aramaic these days? Yet it was the most common language around the time of Christ’s birth. Not Hebrew. Aramaic. And it’s gone. It didn’t evolve into another language. It simply disappeared. The only reason Hebrew survived at all was because it was a religious language, as is Latin. Who knows how it was really pronounced? But at least many people could read it, so when they decided to reconstruct it, there were a lot of people who knew how the language was built.

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            • I took three years of Latin in high school. I thought it was interesting because it is the root of so many of our words, but still wish I had taken something that is in modern day usage.


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