Growing up, I was fortunate to attend a public school that offered a variety of foreign language courses. I wanted to take them all, but just didn’t have room in my schedule to do that, of course. So, when trying to decide between Spanish, French, or German, I used good ol’ teenage logic.
My mother suggested Spanish, because our country’s neighbor to the south was Mexico. We had no idea that there would be millions of immigrants from Mexico in the future. At that time, in the 1980s, the majority of Spanish-speaking people (in our part of the country) were seasonal workers who did not bring their families with them. I guess I didn’t have much of an opportunity to be around them, because I don’t remember hearing much Spanish being spoken. I tossed the idea around in my head, thinking that it might be nice to read the Mexican restaurant menus better, but ultimately rejected Spanish.
Most of my friends signed up to take French, which my parents thought was borderline ridiculous. We didn’t even have any fancy French restaurants in our home town, so what was the use of such a silly language? I seriously considered taking it, wanting to be in class with my friends, but was intimidated by the complicated sounds I was hearing from older schoolmates who had already taken it. One friend even shared her secret for learning the correct pronunciations: She practiced speaking with marbles in her mouth every night! I guess I thought they were masters of the language. Regardless of whether or not they were speaking proper French, the “in crowd” sounded trés cool to me. However, I was convinced that I would fail miserably.
This is where my teenage logic prevailed. Since I didn’t see the importance of learning Spanish, and I was afraid to tackle French, I considered German. My next door neighbor had grown up in Germany. Her mother lived in our town, and could help me with any unforeseen difficulties I might have. I was very interested in the photos of people and places that my neighbor had shared with me. Also, the stories of their recent trip to visit the country were so fascinating! But, to top it off, I was a fan of the German bands Nena and the Scorpions. That was the deciding factor. I wanted to learn the language of these groups I saw/heard on MTV. It was a done deal. I signed up for German I.
I had a great time in my German class. I joined Der T.A.G., our local foreign language club, even becoming an officer. I loved our lunch meetings at school. Having my German neighbor connection, I always brought a delicious dessert. Streusel was a favorite! Our teacher was cool. She let us listen to music while we did our classwork, under one condition: It had to be German music. No polkas for this girl… I brought my Nena cassette and listened to “99 Luftballons” over and over.
I actually wasn’t a bad German student at all. I excelled, in fact. But, the old saying is true. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Our school didn’t offer German II the following year, or ever, so I was stuck with a beginner’s repertoire (pardon my French) of a language that I would honestly never need again. Well, there was that one semester of college when I hadn’t declared a major yet, and I gave German another shot. However, college German was much harder than high school, and I quickly got over my fascination with foreign languages entirely.
Fast forward to 2017, more than 30 years later. I hear Spanish everywhere I go, so I sometimes wish I had taken my mother’s advice. Maybe Spanish would have been a more practical choice after all. However, I find myself drawn to the French language. Just last weekend, my husband and I were in Louisiana for a baseball tournament. Everywhere we looked, we saw French words and names. We got tickled at the funny mispronunciations by Siri when we were using GPS, but we certainly didn’t know how to say half of the street names either. De what? Le Who? Bayou de Where?
I don’t think I’ll ever travel to France, but I do occasionally dabble in “French” culture, if Louisiana counts. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to pronounce the beautiful names of the people and places when I’m there? I think I’ll go buy a bag of marbles and sign up for some lessons.