Learning a new language is always difficult, whether it be your first one as a baby or another one later in life. So before becoming discouraged by all that boring conjugations and grammar just remember, if you learned one, there is no reason that you cannot learn another.

Years ago, in Paris I crossed paths with an old friend from my English boarding school, and she asked me how I could possibly be speaking French so well! While in school, the language teacher had resorted to putting her in charge of making sure that my homework was done– I hated all that conjugation junk! My point is; learning a new language is about communicating. Remember the term “walkabout” from the film “Crocodile Dundee?” That is your best classroom, just get out and talk to people. It might be a nice change from iPods and cellular phones.

My second suggestion for anyone who wishes to learn a new language is keep a sense of humor, not only about your mistakes, but the whole situation. Once again, years ago in Paris, when my French was still very rudimentary I was at a party and someone was telling a joke. I was quite proud that I was understanding everything until the punch-line came -“make a pipe,” I was left there shrugging my shoulders while everyone else laughed. However, the worst was that when asked if I had understood, I responded “everything but the punch-line,” and that got peels of laughter. Everyone just turned to this poor guy who happened to speak English very well, and said “Explain it!” When the English translation was given, people hit the floor with laughter and asked, why would you strange Americans blow on it!! And, I passed one of the most embarrassing moments of my life as I realized that the joke was sexual in nature.

While learning a new language you will invariably make mistakes and sometime embarrassing ones, one time I called “cojines” “cojones,” and if you take it in stride and with a certain humor, others will too. And, for those who would “look down their nose” at you for your “imperfections;” I always just said to them “If you prefer we could speak in English?”

By Quenby Wilcox – Fall 2006