Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lucy Takes Spanish

LUCY BURDETTE: I’ve spent a lot of years of my life in school. Even so, it’s been a long time since I had to try to learn a completely new skill, complete with homework and drills and memorization. (Not counting book deadlines as homework, or classes on the finer points of writing…which hmmm, probably should count, right?) But when the Key West library offered Spanish lessons, John and I couldn’t resist signing up. Why, you might ask? We’ve always heard that learning something new is good for the rusty synapses, but that wasn’t our chief motivation. More and more people in the US speak Spanish, for one. I wanted to be able to communicate!

And for two, there have been times when some well-placed Spanish comprehension would have come in handy in our travels. Take for example the time we were in Barcelona without a word of Spanish between us other than hola. When we wanted to buy something, we were reduced to holding out handfuls of coins and hoping the shopkeepers were honest. Then there was the day we came through customs in a small town in Cuba. I emerged from the passport line with no problems, and then waited and waited for John to show up. As it turned out, he hadn’t understood what the customs agent was asking.

Ha viajado en África durante los últimos dos años?” the man asked (or something like that.)

“Yes,” John answered cheerfully, not wishing to be seen as an uncooperative, Ugly American. If he’d understood their question: “Have you traveled in Africa in the past two years?” he would have answered No! rather than Si! And then he wouldn’t have been pulled aside and screened by a barrage of other authorities with questions about his possible exposure to ebola…

El profesor, Edgardo

la clase


That said, we are heading into our seventh week of class and finding it quite challenging. Even though we study a little bit every day and have a wonderful teacher (Edgardo, who hails from Puerto Rico, works at the Key West library, and also happens to be an amazing poet) and even though the old rusty brain cogs are creaking as fast as they can, French words are what come to my mind when he asks a question.



Here was one of my first assignments after Edgardo was done correcting it:

Yo soy de Nueva Jersey. Juan es mon (mi) eposo (esposo) gracioso y bello. Yo soy carto (baja) (corto and largo refere to length, not height). Juan es alto. Nosotros vivemos (vivimos) en Cayo Hueso. Yo soy psicologo y escritora. Yo escribe quince novelas de misterio. (We probably won't be able to discuss the past tense but the sentence should be "Yo he escrito quince novelas de misterio) Yoda es mi gato gris. Tonka es mi perro con pelo negro y castana (castaño). Nosotro tenemos dos muchachos (hijos?)  y una nieta. 

Oh holy yikes, Batman! What did I get myself into? The good news is, since I’m taking Spanish, Hayley Snow is too! You’ll see some of that surface in the 8th food critic mystery, coming in 2018.


How about you Reds, are you good students of foreign languages? Have you tried something else new lately, out of your comfort zone?

67 comments:

  1. You and John [and Hayley] are brave to tackle another language, Lucy! I haven’t really studied foreign language since I was in school; then it was French and Latin. And, no, I couldn’t converse in either one today.
    However, I did have an opportunity to learn sign language when we lived in California and the girls and I were members of a sign language choir at our Church. Although I don’t use it much these days, the grandbabies learn some simple signs in school, so we keep our hand in, so to speak . . . .

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    1. Joan, sign language is a Visual language. I loved watching the choir sign songs in church. Especially during the Christmas season.

      Baby signs are very popular. A friend, who studied sign language and wrote a book about a child with no language, wanted to teach Sign Language and was upset that her Sign Language class was listed as a Baby Sign class in the catalog!

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    2. Bib-li-o-phile, we established our Sign Language Choir because a woman in the congregation was deaf and wanted a meaningful way to share signing with the rest of the congregation. It was a great success and it helped everyone to connect with her. A win-win for everyone.

      I’m not too familiar with Baby Signs, per se; our grandbabies learn “regular” signs. I was surprised, when I first began studying sign language, to learn that signs had regional distinctions, just like spoken languages . . . .

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  2. My hat is off to you. I am a horrible student of foreign languages. Absolutely horrible. I had Latin in the early part of high school (home schooled, so Mom got to choose my foreign language), and I struggled with it. Spanish in the later part of high school was easier, but I still struggled. And, of course, I don't remember much of anything I learned since I don't really use it, even in California. Then again, I was always the worst at the spoken part. I can never understand what is being said, and my brain takes too long to translate the words I actually do understand.

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  3. Aha- so it's research! I should have known. ;^) I'm pretty good with languages, but the last one I tried to pick up (in my late 40s) was Moore (MOW-ray) in Burkina Faso. Fail, mostly because I didn't study. And the outside-my-comfort-zone thing was probably accompanying my young-adult son on a zip line in Costa Rica. Pee-in-your-pants terrifying. Good for you for venturing out. Buena suerte.

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  4. Kudos to you Lucy for learning Spanish!! I am pretty good with languages, learning Japanese and English growing up. And then French from grade 3 onwards to high school, and then 2 years of German at university. But the first time I really needed to improve my French fluency was when I moved to Ottawa in 2014. I had to pass 3 French exams (reading, writing and oral French) for a bilingual position with the federal government. It was really hard to cram and study for it but I passed!

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  5. Hola Lucy, estudié español desde el séptimo grado hasta graduarme con un título en español de la Universidad de Washington. Todavía puedo leer el lenguaje hermoso. Ya no puedo hablar con fluidez. Si desea practicar algún tiempo, estoy disponible en línea. Buena suerte.

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    1. I am so excited about Ms. Snow returning to Key West to take on more restaurants both good and bad. Doing small happy dance.

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  6. For a while there, in the first few years after my husband died, I felt like my whole life was outside my comfort zone. I had never lived alone, and I had a lot of big decisions to make. Having got myself through that more or less successfully, I discovered that walking out along the edge could actually be kind of fun, and that a lot of the stuff I used to agonize over was actually no big deal. Now, although I have settled into my new routine, I try to remind myself to get out of the rut every once in a while, even if it's only to eat at a new place, or spend my lunch hour at an art gallery instead. Travel, volunteer work, and the new challenges of turning the house I bought into a home keep me on my toes, and give me fresh reasons not to doze my way through life. But Spanish? I haven't studied a foreign language since I was in eighth grade. Still, I can get the sense of the written words pretty well. Maybe it's time to see if I can wrap this Midwest accent around the spoken words. Kudos to you and John, Lucy, for giving it a try.

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    1. And back at you Gigi, for managing to survive a truly difficult and painful transition. Life throws a lot at us, doesn't it? and you have such a good attitude...

      we are having fun, but it's hard work! Edgardo told us the best way to really get fluent is to take an immersion class. Maybe we will try that one day. (Tonka says, make sure it's dog friendly!)

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    2. I would recommend that, too, Lucy. Go live in Mexico for a month, or elsewhere, and stay with separate families so you and John don't speak English to each other!

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    3. Gigi-- it's very empowering! Give it a try… And good for you.

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  7. I am impressed Lucy/Roberta. I am fairly good at understanding languages once I've been immersed for awhile, but I can barely speak English! I can, however, deliver a baby in Spanish, Navajo, Hopi, and English. I can go to the dentist, go shopping, buy booze, and work my way around a menu in French. Same with Italian. My father was German, so I can get the gist of that most of the time. At one point, after I'd lived on the Navajo reservation for a couple of years, I suddenly realized I could understand that language. I am sure I couldn't now tho. And I'd never pretend to be able to speak any. Once, a few years ago, I took a class in conversational French. Taught by an Italian. 'Nuff said.

    Ya'a'te'ah nez'bah

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    1. if you can deliver a baby in all those languages, my hat's off to you Finta! I need your services in this dratted book I'm revising right now LOL

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    2. Respiración profunda y empuje

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  8. I love languages! And can get around in French, Spanish, and German. The thing that really works for me is total immersion. If I go to a country where a language is spoken, it just becomes so natural… The rhythm, and the music, you see the signs, and you hear people talking. And it's so much fun when you realize you're thinking in the other language, and not translating.
    I'm sometimes halting and not self-confident, but I am eager and willing to go for it. One of my favorite stories was in the south of France getting a car. I came out of the store and sent to Jonathan: I either just rented a car for $25 a day, or bought a car for $25,000. We shall see.

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    1. So funny Hank! We did not know you had this special skill. I keep saying if I wasn't busy trying to write two books, I could really study and learn this language!

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  9. And yes, Coralee, people are very generous and patient, and if you're not perfect, that's fine.
    Hi sister 'Nancy, Sheff, lived in Mexico for a year, total immersion. She came back speaking Spanish perfectly, not only the words, but the inflection and the attitude. It's amazing.

    My niece Emily just had a baby boy, and Emily's husband is from Mexico. So I sent them good night moon in English and Buenos noches Luna in Spanish!

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    1. What a great gift Hank! That reminds me of another thing our professor said--watch soap operas, listen to music, read children's books. I found Cinderella in Spanish at the library book sale. When we are finished, we'll send it to baby Dorothea:)

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    2. That's how I learned Portuguese in Brazil at age 17, Hank. I could barely speak English when I came home!

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  10. Escriba su próximo libro en español. :)

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  11. I took Spanish from 7th grade through my senior year, then took one year in college. I am proud to say I understood what Coralee wrote above! Wow! When I was in Puerto Rico, the locals would help me practice. At this point, I think my reading comprehension far outstrips my speaking ability.

    Both my kids have studied Spanish since kindergarten, but I'm not sure how "good" they are with it. The Girl is trying to teach herself Swedish with DuoLingo, practicing with her friend's mom who is from Sweden.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Great that she has someone to practice with--to me, the thought of Swedish seems overwhelming!

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    2. Me, too. All those weird sounds!

      Mary/Liz

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    3. I am watching this cheesy Scandinavian program on Acorn TV and one character is Norwegian. The other character mentions that he will instruct co-workers to speak slowly in Swedish so the Norwegian can understand them. it was really a put down. I remember visiting Malmo, Sweden when I took a day trip on the train from Copenhagen (Kobenhaven).

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  12. Roberta, I give you and John a lot of credit; it is not easy to retrain our brains when we get a bit older. Best of luck to you both, and to Hayley Snow!

    I took French for two years in high school, and loved it. But then did not use it again until I was in Europe for the first time the year I turned fifty. It was fascinating how much came back, but I was paired with a roommate who spoke fluent French, and I didn't get much chance to stretch and practice. The same thing happened when I went to South America for two weeks; my roommate on the trip had been in the Peace Corps in the sixties and had perfect Spanish.

    When I took my mother to Paris for a weekend with two of my daughters, both of whom studied French for three years or more, I fully expected them to jump right in and rattle off better remembered sentences than my rusty old mind could conjure, but neither did, and I ended up speaking for our group. Again, when my husband an I traveled together to France, I had to speak for us both. He took French for five years, between high school and college, but his accent is atrocious. Since he could compose better parsed sentences, either he would tell me and I would say what he said with a better accent, or I would try to translate for the French person we were speaking with. It was like a comedy routine.

    Then there was the Swahili I tried so hard to learn for our two weeks in Tanzania. Two-year olds had bigger vocabularies, and in fact, every child learns English, as well as the language of their own tribe, and Swahili, which is somewhat of a universal language.

    The Tanzanians are incredibly polite, and greet one another in quite lovely ways. One is a phrase that means "sleep peacefully", which is said in the evening. "La la es salamaah", if I remember it correctly. But for three days I was saying, to the surprise and/or amusement of the local people, "la la Dar Salaama". Dar Salaam being their capital city. But once I figured it out everyone was very kind about my dumb American mistake. What do we know of Swahili, right?

    We won't even discuss my latest try, which was to learn Italian for the workshop with Rhys last year (Rhys, by the way, puts us all to shame, language wise). I downloaded Duolingo, and really tried to learn simple phrases, but it just didn't work for me. I think one needs a grounding in the basics first.

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    1. Wow, Swahili! that is very adventurous. I do think it's easier to pick something up if you studied it as a kid (both John and I took French.) But I feel like I could do this if I had the time...grrr

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  13. Lucy, I am envious. I think your Spanish class sounds like huge fun. I took Spanish all through school (usual in Texas) then did an immersion summer in Mexico City when I was eighteen. Unfortunately, the family I lived with all spoke perfect English. But, still, I learned a lot, but it's rusty now. My poor mother studied Spanish for twenty-five years, and while she could read and comprehend very well, no one could understand her when she spoke because her accent was atrocious!

    I really do want to study a language. I should work on my Spanish. I'd have a head start, and it's by far the most useful and practical for me. BUT, I really want to speak French (one semester after college) and Italian. I bought Rosetta Stone in Italian a couple of years ago and haven't done a single lesson. Has anyone else tried Rosetta Stone?

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    1. Debs, when you visit England, do you notice that their English language is, in some ways, different from American English language?

      I thought of this when someone mentioned learning Spanish before visiting Mexico or Cuba? I would think their Spanish language is perhaps different from Spanish language spoken in Spain?

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    2. Debs, I have Rosetta Stone in Italian, too! A few years ago I decided I really wanted to learn enough to travel in Italy without embarrassing myself. Unfortunately, life got busy, and my Italian aspirations fell down the to-do list. Also, I studied French and Spanish growing up, and I know that everyone says if you study one romance language the others are easier, but I just found myself answering the Italian questions in Spanish!

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    3. Oh definitely Spanish in Spain is different from South American/Caribbean Spanish--that was our first lesson. Along with the names of all the countries in South America. So embarrassing how mixed up I was!!

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    4. Bibiophile, yes, the versions of a language spoken in different countries can differ more than the version of two languages spoken at a border. After learning southern Brazilian Portuguese by immersion, I could more easily understand the Spanish spoken in northern Uruguay than I could the Portuguese from Portugal a couple of years later. It's been said, "A [spoken] language is a dialect with a government."

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    5. Bibliophile, yes the language dialects vary by region and country. I cannot communicate with my Japanese on the southern islands. Also I was taught Parisian French in Ontario so I could communicate well in France but not in rural Quebec (Canada). Go figure!

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  14. Good for you, Roberta/Lucy! I love this! and so timely. I'm taking my first trip to Paris this year and am trying to learn at least a few phrases to get me by. But, sadly, I have NO ear for languages and apparently anything I do say sounds ridiculously wrong but with a southern accent. I have not tried Rosetta Stone, but I have purchased Pimsleur. Now I just need to DO it! Donald says there's definitely one phrase I need to learn - "How much are those boots, please?" When I told a friend I felt like I needed to learn some French before going he told me a story about how he felt really, really good about himself when he very confidently walked up to someone and asked his question in French, only to fall into despair when the man answered in French and Jerry did not understand one word of the gentleman's reply.

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    1. Kaye, if you can read and write in French, I think they will not mind if you write in French? That's what I did when I travelled to France. I also invented signs like the two hand shape for Euros when I asked how much euros the postcards cost at the gift shop at the Louvre.

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    2. bib-li-o-phile! What a terrific idea!!!!

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    3. That's why the other phrase you need to know is "Parlez plus lentment, s'il vous plait!"

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  15. Muy bien, Lucy (Lucia?)!!! I took 5 years of HS Spanish and 2 years of college Russian - love, love, love speaking foreign languages and it was invaluable as a librarian in Phoenix. I used to teach computer skills classes in Spanish and my Hispanic co-teacher said my accent made me sound like a Mexican newscaster - LOL! The hooligans went to a Spanish immersion elementary school and spent half their day in Eng and half in Span. It's been awesome watching their comprehension and skills surpass my own!

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    1. see, that's the way to do it, Jenn, immersion while young enough to pick it up!

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  16. I took French through middle school and high school and the beginning of College hoping to study in Paris junior year. I could read, write and conjugate anything, but had never taken conversational. In a nutshell, I placed out of 3 years of French and ended up in classes with people who had just come back from Paris, and they just chatted away with the teacher, while I was totally lost. I didn't mesh with the husband and wife team who ran the French department, and so decided to forget the whole thing. Then I took Italian -- so easy after French, none of those strict rules, and lots of talking with your hands -- loved it.

    I grew up in Texas and should have taken Spanish, but wanted to be different, thus the French, which is a big regret. My daughter has taken Spanish since Pre-K and is now in Spanish honors classes. But I do have a great line from a French poem I had to memorize "je suis dans les profondeurs du désespoir" -- it's dark, but dramatic ~

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  17. Roberta/ Lucy, learning a foreign language - wow! That is great about your teacher. I wonder if the Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico is different from the Spanish spoken in Cuba? In England, their English is different from American English. So I wonder if the Spanish in Mexico / Latin America would be different from the Spanish in Spain?

    I learned sign language at the age of 3 from Sesame Street. I also had lost my hearing so sign language was a necessity ;-/

    My great grandfather could speak, read and write in 7 different languages! My great grandmother could do that in 4 different languages. That included the English language, which meant that they had an easier time than other immigrants to the USA.

    I always enjoyed learning languages. I learned a bit of French then took high school Spanish. At university, I took French. My sign language interpreters had difficulties learning the language. For me, all I had to do was read and write in French.

    I just remembered that a deaf friend from Argentina mentioned that the Spanish language is easier to lip-read than the English language.

    I read somewhere that Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh's mother Princess Alice was born deaf and she could lipread several languages!

    Great post!

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  18. Yo hablo espanol, pero, muy pocito, that was me trying to say "I speak,Spanish, but, very little. I used to be pretty good right after college, but that was maybe a hundred years ago.

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  19. My apologies. I didn't mean to write a book!

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  20. I took Latin, French, and ancient Greek in high school. I found that Latin exposed the workings of languages better than English, and helped me to understand how things work in all languages (most, anyway). But of course the Latin and Greek were for reading only; we didn't learn how to ask "How do I get to Sugar Hill in Harlem?" I had different French teachers each year, and they focused largely on reading comprehension, so my accent is no doubt tres horrible. The other language I've learned is bridge, which has only about fifteen words, and you don't even get to say them out loud, but each can have so many different meanings in different situations!

    This post made me think whether I'd want to learn another language in retirement. At this point it seems to be pretty far down the list. I enjoyed the alphabet in Greek, so maybe I'd want to learn Japanese, or even a bi-di language like Arabic. We'll see.

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  21. I wish I had the foreign language gene, which my father had in spades, but alas, I don't. He could speak Spanish, German, some French and some Russian, and his Spanish was good enough to translate a medical textbook. For a trip to Spain a couple of years ago, I used Duolingo to brush up on my rather pathetic Spanish. It was very helpful, and I actually did okay once there.

    Total immersion in a classroom setting always made me crazy, but I imagine it's a different experience in an actual community.

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  22. I signed up for Duolingo and tested out at Level 2 in Spanish, so thanks for the push, Lucy! Now if I do Italian and Spanish, will I be really confused? :-)

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    1. Yay Debs, I bet you won't have trouble distinguishing...

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  23. My husband used to be fluent in French, after a summer working in Switzerland,and he has been trying to recapture that ability. It's partly for fun and partly because he has clients in Quebec (they are all bilingual) He readily admits that it is harder now than when he was young. We have been to France a few times. To his disappointment, he doesn't get to use his French much because everyone now wants to practice English! (That's changed a lot in France in the last 20 years - they used to refuse to admit everyone does not speak French)

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  24. After three years of straight As in Spanish in high school I can confidently ask where I can locate the library (with no comprehension of the actual location once it is provided) and explain that my guitar is broken.

    I do have the useful ability to be able to pretty well understand most Roman-based languages if I read them. I can't formulate a reply either written or spoken but ... it comes in handy.

    That's okay because watching telenovelas with the sound off is much more entertaining with my writer's brain.

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    1. LOL Aimee! I forgot to ask whether others learned French with dialogues (on records, which dates me quite a bit!)?

      Ou est la bibliotecque?
      C'est tout droit. Tu y vas tout suite?
      Oui, il faut que j'aille chercher un livre!

      Probably some mistakes, there, but does that sound familiar?

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    2. I learned French in school, and each teacher had their own way. No tapes or records.

      When I had to pass my French exams for work in 2014, we had huge textbooks for writing and one-on-one oral language coaches...it was intense!!

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    3. I tried the Duolingo app for fun. The French is basic enough for you to use while travelling. Totally useless for my work purposes, though.

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    4. Roberta, I remember "Ou est Marie?" "A la piscine." "Avec qui?" "Avec Anne." Despite studying French from 6th grade through my sophomore year in college, I'm losing vocabulary at an alarming rate. But I will never, ever forget the French word for 'swimming pool.'

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  25. My husband is fluent in Spanish. And each country's version is different! I took German in high school and Spanish in college. I was terrible. I couldn't differentiate the sounds in Spanish; it is one long noise to me. When we've traveled in Spanish-speaking countries I've gotten to where I can understand some of what is being said, but not all. That could be dangerous! As for trying to construct a sentence and say something, oh lord. German words pop in. It is hopeless.

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  26. I'm sure some people are just naturally better at languages than others Pat, just like some have an ear for music. Hmmm, I wonder if those are related?

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  27. I grew up speaking fluent French and English.
    When I moved to California I attempted to learn Spanish but had my head wrapped around French too much to master Spanish.
    I love to watch Foreign language films because it strengthens
    My language skills. I would love to study Italian.
    Karen I love your posts about your travels. Well done!

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  28. I actually majored in French in college, minored in German. Didn't have a real career goal in mind, just loved languages. I opted not to spend my junior year abroad because I loved being at my college so much. In retrospective, it was a mistake because I never became fluent. My career in HR didn't require French, but I tried to keep my hand in from time to time, going through the French in Action tapes, etc. I did get to spend 5 days in Paris as a high schooler, part of a student tour, but I had only had two years of high school French by that time (plus a couple of years of Latin in junior high).

    Last summer my husband and I signed up for a one-week Rick Steves tour of Paris, and I was in hog heaven! I did a lot of French language review to prepare and even made up some flash cards for Mike, who had never had any French in school--just basic phrases to keep him polite and out of trouble. In Paris, I used French whenever I could, even though most of the waiters, shop clerks, etc. understood English. I've never regretted majoring in French and wish I could use it more, but so far I'm too scared to join a French-language social group because although I can read the language fairly well with the help of a dictionary, understanding it when delivered at a rapid rate is still beyond me. I'll keep trying.

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    1. Margie, I majored in French too, and went abroad for half my junior year. I always think that might have been a mistake too, and I did not come back fluent. So who knows? Your trip to Paris sound wonderful and has me itching to visit again!

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  29. I know Portuguese so get Spanish mixed up with that close relative of tongue whenever I attempt to speak it. I took French in school but don't remember much of it, tbh. I've always wanted to learn Italian, though and would welcome the opportunity!

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  30. Moi, j'etude francais avec Rosetta Stone, maintenent. Je suis débutante, mais c'est tres jolie.

    Bon chance, Lucy!

    ~kc

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  31. The best foreign language tip I ever received for asking directions in a country where I don't speak the language (and that would be most of them) is to just ask and wait for the person to answer and POINT in a direction, which seems to be a universal thing. Trot along a block or so, ask again. Follow the pointing finger. You'll get somewhere eventually! Very successful in Italy, I found. My Italian vocabulary consists of "Excuse me, dove. . . ?" yes, I start off in English.

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    1. That's a smart and funny method Melanie! Just keep trotting and follow the fingers...

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