Near the end of sixth grade, the school herded everyone in that grade into the auditorium. Someone explained to us that next year we would start learning a foreign language. Yes, that is a pathetically late time to start, but that decision was out of my control. We were given two choices – Spanish or French. We already knew these were going to be the options. Chinese was not in vogue in Western New York in 1991 and my school was not large enough to also offer German or Latin, as many of the surrounding schools did. We also already knew that the French teacher was a b***h and we were all scared of her, though I can’t recall a single event or detail that led to this perception. So the choice of Spanish or French wasn’t really a choice. Everyone wanted to be in tiny, perky, friendly Ms. Periera’s class.
If the administrators thought we were going to evenly divide ourselves, they were in for a big surprise when about 130 people moved to the right of the auditorium and 14 moved to the left. Obviously that wasn’t going to work and some poor souls were unpleasantly surprised to see French on their schedules when they showed up to school the following September. I – whose mother was on the Board of Education – was not one them. I was relieved not only because I was terrified of the teacher but of French itself. Even though I hadn’t started learning French, I knew that it had a lot of letters that weren’t spoken (only English is allowed to do that!) and that the letters that were spoken often sounded slurred together and nasally (only English is allowed to do that!). Who wouldn’t choose the blissfully phonetic and clipped (how naïve!) Spanish instead?
So I studied Spanish and later German and Russian seriously, and I dabbled in several other languages including Korean, Hindi, and Japanese. Then, while I was living in Russia, English was becoming passé among the young, affluent Muscovites who had been learning English from kindergarten anyways (See? That’s when foreign languages should start to be taught!) and Spanish and French were coming into fashion. I spoke Spanish fluently at the time and was stagnating in Russian, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon and try French. I also had a French roommate and was reading a lot of classic Russian literature in which the aristocrats use French liberally and the authors, catering to the readers of their time, felt no need to include translations.
So I jumped in, and what do you know – it was easy! Anyone who has studied several languages knows that there are a lot of unexpected commonalities among seemingly disparate languages – such as the two past tenses in both Russian and Spanish, or the use of is and have to form the simple past in both French and German, or the number of cognates between English and Japanese. Training your brain to adjust to different grammatical structures, such as noun genders or particles, and different syntax, such as placing the verb at the end of sentence, gives you more brain power, which makes learning another, unrelated foreign language easier. Even though I had always heard that once you learn one romance language, the others are very easy to learn, though I never believed it. Spanish and French didn’t look alike, so they couldn’t possibly be alike. I was so wrong about that. I gained a level of speaking and reading in French in a year that had taken several years to achieve with Spanish. Certainly as an adult learning of my own volition, I was more invested in the process, but knowing Spanish was a definite benefit. I can’t write to save my life in French – all those damn extra letters! – but I don’t have to take middle school quizzes anymore, so I’m not too concerned about that. So if you are thinking about trying French, I say allez-y!
Curious about what everyone else is writing for the A to Z Blog Challenge? Me too! I’m featuring three blogs from my fellow contributors each day. Here are today’s entertaining, lyrical, beautiful, unique, informative, or just plain random discoveries:
Guess today’s theme!