While lazily drinking
in the Spanish language, courtesy of the PBS Destinos series and U.S. State Department
audiotapes, with a little Berlitz for a chaser, it occurred to me how easy a language
it is to learn. Spanish is wonderfully simple -- you pronounce each letter in
each word. What a concept! It's straightforward, like its people. (One of these
days, I'll do the Mexican people a favor and try to get the grammar right.)
On the other hand, I don't know how they're doing it but many Mexicans are
managing to learn English, despite the difficulties inherent in mastering a language
so different from their own.
When my European great grandparents came
to America, they spoke no English. Their children spoke little English even though
they were born in Manhattan. My father heard no English at home so he himself
spoke none until he started grammar school. Perhaps they didn't think it necessary,
since their neighbors didn't speak it either. Or perhaps it was because English
is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, not even barring
Frankly, I don't understand how anyone can learn English as
a second language, as spoken in America unless, of course, their first language
is English as spoken in England. American English is also very typical of its
people -- a little from here, a little from there, a little created by slangsters
and gangsters, a little added by immigrants, and a lot added by musicians.
Think about it. How can anybody easily learn a language that uses words that
look the same but are pronounced differently, like plough, trough, tough, through,
though, thorough, enough, bough? See what I mean?
And that isn't the
half of it. What about heard/beard, road/broad, break/weak, low/how, or paid/said?
I'm not even talking about English letters which are silent or unpronounced:
lamb, debt, calm, listen, through, hymn, know, yacht, or the great number of sounds
in English with various spellings: bee, tea, ceiling, field, key, machine, quay,
me, Phoenix, people.
As they say in Dallas, Oy Vey.
Then there's meat, head, heart, heard,
theatre, and pool, foot, blood, door, and cooperate, not to mention cake, mat,
call, any, sofa.
Several sets of words may be spelled in different ways
but pronounced similarly: red/read, rite/right/write, buy/bye/by, so/sew/sow,
feat/feet, and ate, eight.
It's enough to drive a person crazy. ("Short
trip," as my mother would say.)
Maybe the latest trends in English will
help those who wish to learn -- shortcuts supplied by the young as always. My
generation sliced the "usine" from limousine to give the language "limo," and
ripped "catessen" from delicatessen for "deli." My son thinks his generation contributed
the word "cool," but he's wrong. How many of you hung out in bars listening to
cool jazz? And no one ever lived, not even Jack Nicholson, any cooler than Cary
Grant. But I digress.
To Mexicans dezyring nolej uv Uhmerikin histry:
Wun uv R fayvrit politishuns wuz Prezident Linkin. I hope U dont think thiss spelling
I'm just trying to help you break your Berlitz. In closing,
I'll leave you with this:
A Mexican guy is visiting Sydney, Australia
and stops his car near a country bus stop where two locals are waiting, and says:
"Entschuldigung, koennen Sie Deutsch sprechen?"
The two Aussies
just stare at him, in complete silence.
"Excusez-moi, parlez vous Francais?"
The two continue to stare, still in complete silence.
"¿Hablan ustedes Espanol?"
The Mexican drives off, extremely disappointed. The first
Aussie turns to the second and says
"Maybe we should learn a foreign language."
"Why? That guy knew four
languages, and it didn't do him any good."
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
Balloon In Cactus" 2002 Column
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