Jackie Hope: Tongue tied in language

Have you ever tried to teach yourself another language? Maybe something exotic, like pig Latin or qwerty? No, teaching yourself to speak Siri does not count. Any idiot can speak Siri. You say, "Siri, where is the closest Scheels store?" And Siri ...

Have you ever tried to teach yourself another language? Maybe something exotic, like pig Latin or qwerty?
No, teaching yourself to speak Siri does not count. Any idiot can speak Siri. You say, “Siri, where is the closest Scheels store?” And Siri replies, “Your closet is full of heels. You don’t need more.” You continue, “No, Siri, I want a store that sells sports stuff.” Siri counters with, “You don’t have the legs for shorts. Ask me to find a store that sells something to flatter your figure - like sweats. I suggest Scheels.”
Show of hands people, who has tried to learn a language other than English, or Junior High Cool-Speak? Did you take French or Spanish in high school? Man, that stuff is hard. Foreign language teachers expect you to learn way more than just words. They want you to learn tenses, and cases, singulars and plurals. Sheesh. It’s like being in a super-hard English class. Except it’s in another language.
What’s the deal with that? Don’t they know you can’t speak whatever non-English language they are teaching, and that’s why you’re taking the darned class in the first place? But no, they go all “Salve, discipuli,” or “Guten morgen,” on you, soon as you walk in the classroom. Just sayin’, it’s all Greek to me.
Don’t you envy the guys who grew up with grammies and grampas who spoke German or Polish or Russian? Just ask Google what’s the best age to learn another language, and in .4 seconds you get nearly 40 million answers. And 39.99 million of those answers say, “Between birth and age 10.” So, kids with bilingual parents or grandparents are the ones who ace their Intro to Anything-But-English tests. While the rest of us sit there doodling those upside down question marks that are Spanish for, “Make your best guess, because you are so hosed, you ain’t never gonna figure this out.”
Did your grampa speak in his native tongue from the “old country”? Yeah. Mine, too. It was English. Yorkshire, mate. But, still, it would have been cool to learn German or something by listening to the grown-ups talking.
And now scientists tell us that learning another language helps people ward off memory loss as they age. At least I think that is what the scientists say. Can’t remember, exactly. But there’s all sorts of info about home study courses available at the Do-It-Yourself-Language-Self-Help-For-Dummies-And-Gullible-Types websites. You know those sites. You can link to them through Wiki or, or maybe even Of course, I never go to those sites myself. I’ve only heard about them from a friend of a friend. My memory is just fine. I think. Well, never too late to learn something new, is it? So a family member, who prefers to remain nameless and who really isn’t me, decided to learn Spanish. Because, hey, it is useful and has everyday applications. Another family member studied Russian, because it made that family member sound cool. And a third family member decided to learn Middle Egyptian hieroglyphs, because you never know when that skill might come in handy.
Spanish Studying Guy bought “Berlitz Basic Spanish,” “Drive-Time Spanish,” “Essential Spanish Grammar,” “Quick Spanish for Law Enforcement,” “Spanish for Dummies,” and “The Bantam New College Spanish & English Dictionary.”
Spanish-studying guy now has an extensive knowledge of Lessons 1 and 2 in each those books. If asked to converse, Spanish-studying guy can hold forth with, “!Hola! ¿Como esta? Muy bien. Gracias.” Spanish-studying guy will be able to work as a greeter, provided no questions are asked about anything as complicated as the weather or the time of day. And provided the conversation does not go beyond, “Hey!”
Russian-studying guy mastered the Cyrillic alphabet, because Russian-studying guy is an over-achiever. Russian-studying guy can now read street signs and rude placards that have appeared in the background of CNN’s on-the-spot reports from Moscow, St. Petersburg and the 2014 Winter Olympics. Russian-studying guy can read Cyrillic almost as well as Cyril himself. Russian-studying guy can pronounce darned near anything in Russian. But, translate? Nyet.
Hieroglyph guy learned the Duckies and Bunnies Alphabet¸ as well as about 140 other pictograms. Hieroglyph guy was feeling self-satisfied, because Middle Egyptian is a dead language, unspoken for well over 1,000 years. So Hieroglyph guy could pronounce the words any old way and call it good. A roaring lion picture means “R,” a moving water picture means “MW,” and a goose picture means ”son.” Say what? No, a goose picture is never just a goose. C’mon, what Middle Egyptian is gonna write about a goose, and then leave it for us to gander at 3,000 years later? But then Hieroglyph guy moved to verbs and the action got too tense.
Now our mornings start like this: “Dobroe utro.” “¿Qué? ¿Qué pasa?” “Water-hare-lotus-duck.” “Somebody please toss me a donut.” “Duck!”

Hope is Our Town’s resident comedian and waxes poetic (and sometimes not-so poetic) about the lighter side of current events in Dickinson, the Oil Patch and the world.

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