The Cornucopia of Language

At the literacy seminar, there were a range of different people, about twenty of us, all there for different reasons and motivations. As I stood by the refreshment table, as I’m wont to do in a room full of people I don’t know, I hear someone say to me, in German with a confrontational tone, “So…I hear you speak… German.”

I had an awkward hunk of cantaloupe in my mouth so I just shrug and say, in English, “Well, yeah.”

He has that strange, old man, macho masculinity stance going on, head tilted slightly up in order to look down at me, feet spread wide. It was too early on a Saturday morning for this sort of thing. I rattled off in completely suave and fluent German, with him hesitatingly punching in sentences. When I noted that his German had a Bavarian accent, honest to goodness, he took a step back from me. I haven’t spoken German that well in a while and was later rather impressed with myself. I do attribute how well I did to the utter lack of esteem I held for someone who has to confront me about a language at 9 on a Saturday.

What I thought about while our teacher rambled off on how we should not use sarcasm with our tutees [No, really? Damn.], was how incredibly awesome it is to have that reach into different languages. If you know even just one more language, think how many more stories of life and love and emotion you can gather. It’s mind-boggling to me. Even if those things are universal, to feel the touches of culture, environment, and individuality on those universals shows you that everyone has a different path to own these experiences and can share them as long as there is that exchange of language.

Slightly demoralized because I don’t speak four languages (unlike the über-achiever above who spoke German, French, and Chinese), I realized that I was way ahead of the average game at any rate when I was trying to help my Spanish speaking partner to guess a word.

“Here, I have an idea,” I say. “The trees are not ‘feo’. So what are they?” She blinks, and bursts out laughing, “Feo! So they’re ‘beautiful’.” She high fives me, “That was so cute!”

Okay, so I have a really bad Spanish accent. I learned my Spanish from a short, squat, blond-haired, blue-eyed Home Ec teacher from Dallas at a military base high school. There were only five students in the class and one was one of my best friends. We sat in the huge Home Ec room, with the ovens in the back and the sewing machines, that were my 14 year-old collective nemesis, were dark and covered and lined the walls.

The five of us students were at two tables, separated by the usual high school caste system. Somehow, while we never got terribly chummy, those lines faded away when we stuffed ourselves with ice cream sandwiches – Home Ec room perks. I’m not sure I learned very much, but unlike now, I didn’t really care.

One day, those “popular” girls were whispering about their naughtier and probably untrue exploits, when my best friend caught a phrase that drifted over.

“What’s a ‘blow job’?” She turned to me. I said nothing. I may or may not have known, I don’t remember, but even if I had known, volunteering that sort of information would not have been the best thing to do at the time.

Unfortunately: “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” yelped our teacher. The fridges hummed in the back and everyone was silent. A rash of red already crept into my friends face, “I, well, I asked what a blo-”

“INTO THE HALLWAY.” Then she refined herself into a gentile Southern dame, “It’s not that you’re in trouble darlin’, it’s just it’s not proper to talk about this sort of thang in front of everyone.” My best friend walked out like she was going to be drawn and quartered. The rest of the class sat silent, on one hand in shock, on the other – what was being said out there?

The door clicked open and I have, to this day, never seen any two people match that deep hue of red. …Though, in hindsight, who better to give her an explanation for that then a Home Ec teacher?

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7 Responses to The Cornucopia of Language

  1. eatsbugs says:

    I wonder if the trick of not knowing what a word means would still work now.

  2. E says:

    I vaguely learned Spanish from a very white and blonde gentleman for a semester and a crabby Hispanic guy for one and a half. I learned much more from the former… I wish it was more so that I can say that I actually learned Spanish.

  3. K says:

    🙂

    I remember my “sex ed” class all too vividly. Our teacher was used of teaching second graders(This was the summer between 9th and 10th grade) and was only there during summer school to make an extra buck, and for the first two weeks of class until she got used of us, she would put her finger in the shape of an L to her forehead and we’d all shut up.

    “Are you telling us we are losers?”

    “NO! It means settle down! Look, Listen and Learn!” she’d say.

    It didn’t help we had a judges daughter(May have remembered her?) in the class always giggling when learning how to put on a condom, or asking dumb ass questions like, does it feel any different with a condom on?

    I knew the teacher wanted to say “Your 16, shut the hell up”, and as the class would irrupt into laughter, sure as shit, she’d put that stupid “L” to her forehead.

    Classic. Good memories.

    Sorry for the long winded post.

    *returns you back to your normally scheduled programming*

  4. strangerandstranger says:

    learning a different langeuage in those days seemed so unnesecary.

  5. a lee says:

    I can’t help but here the ringside play-by-play in my head:

    “[Your German has a Bavarian accent.]”

    “OHHHH! And that right hook comes out of NOWHERE and STAGGERS the challenger…”

    🙂

  6. […] “If you know even just one more language, think how many more stories of life and love and emotion yo…” Whoa. I love that. How many languages do you speak and what inspired you to learn them? Aside from English, which I have moderately good grip on, I speak German. I learned it at the same time I learned English when I was a child because my Mom is German. I speak and understand just a smattering of Spanish, but in terms of inspiration I’m trying to learn Chinese because I’m fascinated with the culture. […]

  7. […] “If you know even just one more language, think how many more stories of life and love and emotion yo…” Whoa. I love that. How many languages do you speak and what inspired you to learn them? Aside from English, which I have moderately good grip on, I speak German. I learned it at the same time I learned English when I was a child because my Mom is German. I speak and understand just a smattering of Spanish, but in terms of inspiration I’m trying to learn Chinese because I’m fascinated with the culture. […]

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