Learning to speak

Some people have the ability to learn languages and pick up the sounds, nuances, and all that goes into speaking and understanding a language fairly easily. In college I lived with a girl who was American, grew up in Argentina, was a French major and was taking German “for fun”. My other roommate was a Bible Languages major learning Greek and Hebrew, and for one semester we lived with a girl from Japan who was attempting to learn English. Poor thing, I wasn’t much help either as I was buried in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Physics. I’m sure she went back to Japan speaking less English than when she came.

However like my roommates, there are people out there blessed with the gift of languages. I am not that person.

Granted, if you look at the languages that I have learned and can speak, you might think I was one of those lucky people. I actually can speak (if you use that term loosely) 6 different languages.

First off, English. That one is kind of a given. Granted, if it weren’t for modern spell check, no one would have a clue what I was actually trying to communicate in the written word. But it is my first language and by far the one I am most proficient in.

High school French. I somehow managed to make it through 4 years of French in 3 years of classes. Granted when I was traveling with my family in Europe after my junior year and actually required to speak it, the introvert in me took over and I went mute. I did mumble something in French to a random lady at a laundry mat in the middle of Belgium and she was so pleased that I spoke French that she hopped in her car and drove off in the night only to return with some ancient books written in French which she bestowed upon me. To this day I have no idea what they are about (or even where they are at)

Tibetan-I had the opportunity while in college to spend a summer learning language and culture in the middle of Lhasa, Tibet. I went to class faithfully and most of the time had no earthly clue what I was learning or how what I was saying was any different or for that matter even remotely close to what our teacher was saying. But I tried, and I didn’t doodle in my workbook too much. And I still retain some of what I learned to this day. I can say one phrase in Tibetan. Granted, I no longer remember what it means, but I can say it. And trust me, living in the middle of Colorado I have yet to come across anyone else that speaks it or a need to use it, but I’m ready should that need ever arise.

Spanish-I finally got around to taking my required language when I was a senior in college. And being a senior I had had a number of friends take languages (or roommates who took them all), and so I knew which teachers and which languages required the language lab and extra time, and which ones didn’t, which is how I ended up in Spanish 1 and 2. That laid the groundwork for the language that I use on a daily basis now, Medical Spanish. As I went through medical school it was apparent that I would need to know and be able to at least speak some of it, so I spent a month living in Costa Rica with a family that did not speak any English and took hours of classes and learned how to speak Spanish. As I mentioned, medical Spanish is something I use on almost a daily basis at work, and at times the only language I seem to speak. In fact, I had a family tell me the other day “Your Spanish is fantastic”. As I smiled and walked back to my charts, I thought to myself “If I am ever lost in a Spanish speaking country I will be in big trouble, while I may be able to tell someone all about their heart attack, their pneumonia, their pelvic pain, or anything medically related, there is no way that I will be able to find my way home”

Toddler-Speak- As a mom of a 17 month old and a 4 year old, there is a very distinct language that is spoken between the ages of about 10 months-2 ½ years. And it is a language that is vital to learn to prevent massive breakdowns (whether that is mine or the child’s). And the language changes daily, for example “eh” may mean “I want my macaroni and cheese on the plate RIGHT NOW” or it may be “I want to eat that bug” or “I want to play with the ball”. It totally depends on the situation. I’m becoming quite fluent in Toddler-Speak. If you have never been around young kids, go to a park/museum/zoo and watch any mother of a toddler age kid and you will be amazed and how the mom and child communicate back and forth often with only “eh”. And you will also be amazed at how quickly the situation becomes a near nuclear disaster when the mom misunderstands a particular “eh”.

And finally, Intoxicated/Angry/Belligerent-Speak- Having been an ER doctor for over 6 years now, I am getting quite fluent in this language. And whether its yelled at the top of one’s lungs with fists and feet swinging, or through gritted teeth in an evil sounding voice, or in the form of “You $^%*##” or “@&%#@%” or “#*#&@^#%” , it all means “I am too intoxicated to function properly at this time and need to you to knock me out for the next 4-8 hours, after which I will wake up a somewhat normal functioning human being who will feel sheepish for the way I acted (and really don’t remember anyway) and will walk out of here with my head hung low eternally grateful for you saving my life”. I remind myself that that is really what they are saying.

And so despite speaking 6 different languages, as you can see, I’m not really a language person.

However I am not letting that defer me from learning to speak my 7th language. Out of love and wanting to connect and encourage cultural heritage, we are going to learn how to speak Korean. And while our little one will likely not be fluent in Korean when he comes (which is probably a good thing given my language abilities) if speaking Korean will help him hold onto something familiar in a new world where everything is different, and help keep that connection for him to part of who he is, then I want to be able to do that for him.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress, maybe a word of the week or something like that…we’ll see how it goes.

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