What language do you wish you could speak?
My parents raised me to respect other languages when we travelled abroad. From a very young age, I was always taught the words for: “please”, “thank you”, “hello” and “goodbye”. Once I was old enough to count and use money my vocabulary was increased to being able to count from 1 to 10 and to understand the names of the currency in the countries that we visited. It’s just polite to make the effort to at least try and say a few words in the language of your hosts. Speaking English, this can sometimes be a bit hard as quite often your hosts are desperate to speak do you in English. In these early years, I can’t really claim to been learning to speak the language – just a few words to be polite.
Quite unusually for my age, when I started primary school in the 1970s we used to have French lessons in a separate classroom from our own. Again, the vocabulary that we were taught was very simple and often involves playing games like bingo – so we got taught numbers. I do remember that if we wanted to go to the toilet, the teacher had taught us the appropriate phrase to ask to go to the toilet and it was always with fear if you needed to use the toilet during the “French class”. Unfortunately, we were young enough that I do recall a couple of accidents where my fellow classmates actually wet themselves, because they couldn’t remember ‘the toilet request phrase’ and were too afraid to ask.
I then changed schools and didn’t formally start learning French until I entered secondary school at age 11 and French was the first foreign-language that we were taught. We weren’t allowed to start learning German (and even then it wasn’t mandatory), but I think in my 2nd year you got the choice of whether you wanted to start learning German or take cookery lessons. It was no contest for me, because my mother was a very good cook and I had been taught quite a lot of cooking at home – the cookery tasks just sounded so plain and boring and learning foreign languages just seemed much more interesting so I started learning German. I hated my French teacher, who just kept leaving us in the classroom to do exercises from a book, whilst she flounced off to the staffroom. My German teacher was quite the opposite and considered terrifying by most peoples standards. When we entered the classroom for the first time we all rushed to our respective desks and her first words were to order us all to stand up and everyone who had rushed to the back of the classroom were immediately told to collect their books and move to the front rows right in front of her desk. She was a very good teacher and strict – she always seem to know when to pick on you to answer a question when you were silently praying that she wouldn’t notice you, because that was the one question to which you didn’t know the answer!
So I studied French and German at secondary school up to O-levels (age 16), but dropped them in favour of physics, chemistry, biology and maths – further maths privately at weekends – at A-level (age 18). Then I started a degree in mechanical engineering at university on a course where I had to obtain a sponsor where I did 1 year before starting university and 1 year after university. So at 19 I started my university course to be told that everyone had to take one option that was not science or engineering based. The options were very varied from history and philosophy to Japanese and German. Unsurprisingly, I decided to continue with my German studies as it seemed more relevant to engineering and the other subjects on offer. By now my parents had a house in rural West France that they were doing up, so I had plenty of chance to practice my French on the locals. I must admit that at the time in rural France most of the local adults did not speak English, which was a real boon. Also, I often ended up ‘playing’ with the grandchildren of a family that my parents had got to know very well. This was great for me, because I didn’t mind the fact that I wasn’t very confident speaking French and I got to know a lot of nursery rhymes, which my young pals were keen to translate from my rather dodgy French into child’s French e.g. “this little piggy went to market” and “round and round the roses … 1 step, 2 steps and tiggly under there”.
So by the time that my career rapidly changed course to Intellectual Property (IP) Law – mostly thought of as patents, trademarks, designs etc. – I was reasonably proficient in both French and German, which was really helpful when sitting European patent exams where you had to know English, French and/or German. Great!
Now after all that build up, let’s get back to the question: “What language do you wish you could speak?” I should probably say Spanish as my partner is much better at that than I am. However, that is just another European language and I can sort of struggle through bits of Italian (from French), Dutch (from English & German) and even a small bit of Spanish from reading. However, to broaden my horizons I would really like to learn Chinese (Mandarin) or possibly some Japanese – although if I am honest I can’t see myself spending the time necessary to even pick up the basics of either language. But yes, those are the languages that I would really like to have a go at. Maybe, when I retire from work and into my old age. Who knows?!?
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