Opinion: Another language to speak poorly

Because I am a person who likes to keep his mind active and who is always looking for ways to improve, I have recently undertaken the home study of a new language. Well, new to me, anyway. They’ve actually been speaking it for quite a while in its home territory.

And no, it isn’t English, despite the clumsiness of the preceding paragraph.

I am trying to learn Italian so that I may add it to the languages I already speak so poorly — French, Russian, German, Spanish and Pennsylvania Dutch — that when I try to use them, native speakers beg me to return to English.

Why Italian? I honestly do not know. Maybe I was picturing myself at a little sidewalk café in Rome, chatting amiably with the waiter. Maybe I wanted to better understand Italian opera. Maybe there was a sale on at the Learn A Language Company when I was alone, late at night, in front of the computer with my credit card at the ready.

(Actually, I’ve bought a lot of stuff I don’t need under those same conditions — late night, computer, credit card. I’ve either got to go to bed early or forbid my wallet from entering my office.)

Now, as you have seen, I have taken stabs at quite a few languages. French I took in elementary school. I remember very little of it, although I remember the class fondly because the teacher said I had excellent pronunciation. What she did not seem to realize was that I had absolutely no idea what I was saying, and was merely doing an impersonation of Pepe Le Pew: La belle femme skunk sans pew.

Russian came next. My sister and brother and I were tutored in that one. Miss Boldyroff came to the house every Monday to teach us. Of all that I supposedly learned, the most I can do now is wish you good morning or good evening, thank you, say goodbye, identify an apple and call my brother a chimpanzee. It’s good to know I retained something useful.

Oh, I almost forgot: I studied Latin in ninth grade. I learned mottos, like “Vestis Virum Reddit” (clothes make the man) and “Ad Astra Per Aspera” (through difficulty to the stars) and “Semper Ubi Sub Ubi” (always wear underwear).

German was my high school language, taught by a benignly crazed old man who actually drilled it in pretty deep. When I go to the German butcher shop I understand most of what’s being said about me. Of course, “dummkopf” isn’t that hard to translate.

That leaves Spanish and Pennsylvania Dutch, which I’ve picked up as an adult — Spanish through home study, Pennsylvania Dutch (or Deitsch) through an internet course and exposure to Amish culture. In either case, I’m hesitant to try them out in public. I’m just not that confident. Also, with all those languages competing for space in the memory banks, I have a very real fear I’ll get them mixed up and start babbling inadvertent insults in some French-Russian-German-Latin-Pepe Le Pew hybrid.

But even with that I’m looking forward to getting into Italian, for no reason other than it’s interesting and I need a project. Maybe I’ll use it in an Italian restaurant. Maybe I’ll be able to read the ingredients on the imported box of spaghetti.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll even go to Italy. I hear lots of people speak English there.