I busted my tail in high school, oh, close to 30 years ago. Stayed up all kinds of hours to learn things like trigonometry and physics. Never bothered to learn a second language.
So here I sit in Spain, on my own for about a week on an assignment, and I struggle to do the most basic things like, order a decent meal outside the hotel, instruct a taxi dispatcher as to my whereabouts.
Worst of all, my favorite on-the-road activity, conversation, is all but impossible. Understand, I’m not in Barcelona or Madrid, I’m in a relatively small city. And while many people speak a little English (a little better than my Spanish), that’s not going to work for more than, “It’s a nice day today.”
Talk about regrets.
And I know I’m not alone among Americans. We simply do not put much emphasis on languages in school. I took German in junior high and high school, seven years total, and when I went to college and took a placement test, I was placed in German 1. Was I a slacker in high school Deutsch? Sure, but to my recollection the only kids in class who became at all conversational in German were kids who had German parents. When I got to college, where the professor actually forced you to prepare and converse in class, I began to learn the language, but it was so hard I only hung in for the minimum number of semesters, escaped with a couple of C’s and called it a career. When I went to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, 20 years past my last German class, I remembered nothing. Thankfully, nearly all Germans speak English, or I’d have been lost for two weeks.
My regrets are not new. Several years ago, I invested a pretty good amount of money on Spanish CDs. I thought they were pretty good, and I thought Spanish was going to be easier to learn than German. However, when I went to a five-day Spanish immersion class a few years later, well, I was brutal. None of it made sense. Again, I bailed.
So, I’m left knowing only a few words and even fewer phrases. When attempting to comprehend Spanish speakers, I hear a word here and there, but I can’t process sentences, not even a little bit. So, I’m left, more times than not, spitting out something like, “Bien.”
It’s too late now. What a shame. I could be enjoying a week in Spain, walking the streets, meeting nice people. Instead, I sit here in a hotel lounge typing…