Loose Ends: Language lessons

MEEKER I Recently, the realization that I had better brush up on a second language (before traveling overseas again) dawned on me. Trying to speak with the wide variety of people I meet is always a bust. There is no better way to learn about new cultures.

During college when I was given an opportunity to go to Europe, I was confident that my inability to learn foreign languages would not inhibit my first trip abroad. I had four years of French in high school and four years of Spanish in college under my belt. I remained in complete denial about the importance of fluency to carrying on a conversation. 

I could understand a few phrases or come up with the meanings of a few words, yet I could never get the gist of either language or have a conversation. The different grammatical structure also made it tough for me. 

That summer experience gave me only an inkling of what I would be facing in my future. Getting around unfamiliar cities was impossible without relying on help from others who spoke the language. Those were the days of cheap travel, using a train pass through all the countries, as well as staying in youth hostels, and buying cheese and bread for most meals. It was then that I first noticed how even attempting to use the primary language made the local residents much more comfortable. 

Many of us expect those who visit our country to be able to speak English fluently. We seem to forget that even more of us are not bilingual ourselves. During this last year and a half, I would hear news reports from all over the world with people trying to describe their own experiences during the pandemic. 

I found myself trying to see if  they described the same feelings of sadness and hopelessness that so many Americans were reporting daily. Now I find myself looking for the Spanish and French words again, but they are words that describe our recent feelings. The words that describe this new beginning: happiness, family, and friends. Many of us have not discovered there is a third language that we can rely on right now. All we need to do to become more fluent is relearn our second primary language: hope. So many of us who lost family and friends to this pandemic have been busy with relearning this language. Many of them have gotten vaccines. They also speak another language: love.

By DOLLY VISCARDI – Special to the Herald Times