If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. -- Nelson Mandela, first black President of South Africa (1918- )
It occurred to me that several language-related experiences have happened recently.
Yesterday as we were having lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant, we attempted to learn basic Chinese phrases such as "thank you" and "goodbye" from our waitress. We practiced and practiced, evidently not quite getting the inflection or pronunciation of the Mandarin words just right; she was quite amused, but praised our attempts to at least try to speak her language. I could only imagine how difficult it must be for a native Mandarin-speaker to learn English.
This morning I'm meeting an interesting writer for coffee. A charming and spirited young woman, she is from Slovakia and has written a novel (partly based on her own life) about the adventures of a young woman who emigrates from Slovakia to the United States. We're going to discuss the possibility of my copyediting her novel.
My potential new client speaks excellent English, but sometimes is not sure that people can understand her because of her accent. I assured her that she is doing just fine, and then we joked about the fact that my knowledge of her Slovak language is nonexistent.
I then told her the story of my maternal grandmother, Rebecca Goldstein. Grandma Becky, who emigrated to Boston from Riga, Latvia, in the 1880s, spoke not one word of English when she arrived in America. She studied English in a class given at her local high school, but mostly, she learned English from the movies she went to and the radio shows she listened to.
To her family's amusement, every now and then Grandma Becky would experiment by boldly inserting a phrase she had heard in a popular movie into her "new" spoken language, which was a mix of Yiddish and English. Eventually she was able to speak English well enough to feel comfortable in social settings.
We may be traveling to Italy next year, and my goal is to be able to speak enough Italian to make myself understood.
In your travels to other countries, do you speak the language?