Occasionally, I imagine myself as fluent in several languages. It’s not without some basis in fact: Over the years I have studied French, Russian, Latin, German and Spanish.
“Some basis in fact,” however, does not mean “reality.”
The fact is, when I try to speak a language other than Standard Northern Indiana, I become tongue-tied. Or, considering the number of languages involved, tongues-tied.
French, for example. I took French for three years in school. What do I remember? I remember not liking French, for one thing. I remember that I had to introduce myself by saying “je m’appelle Marcel” because my real French name, Michel, was already taken by another classmate, also named Mike; and I remember fragments of conversation drills, none of which I have ever used. Ever.
This leads us to Russian, which I studied for about a year. My Russian is even more pathetic than my French. I remember how to say “good evening,” “thank you,” “goodbye,” “apple,” “chimpanzee,” and “who said meow?” This will be extremely useful if I am ever greeted by a meowing primate offering fruit.
Now, on to Latin. I took Latin for a year, thinking it would shore up some of my linguistic weaknesses. Unfortunately, I was so rotten at it that I can’t tell if my plan worked. My Latin is pretty much limited to “Ad astra per aspera” (Through difficulty to the stars, the state motto ofKansas); “Vestis virum reddit” (Clothes make the man); and “Semper ubi sub ubi” (Always wear underwear).
So forget Latin. My Pig Latin, however, is errific-tay.
German was next. For German I had a crackpot teacher who drilled the language into us with goofy bromides: “Arbeit mach das Leben süß, work makes life sweet, how true, class, how true.” I thought the man was out of his mind. I also learned more from him than any other language teacher.
Now I am learning Spanish via a home study course. According to the course, I am doing splendidly. According to people who speak Spanish: Not so much. Oh, I know a lot of words and phrases, but stitching them all into conversation is another matter entirely. On the computer, I am Don Miguel, el de la lengua de plata (Sir Michael of the silver tongue). In real life, I am Mortimer Snerd, idiota.
Anyway, I struggle on. As it is, I’ve already learned a dandy phrase to go with my Latin mottos and German platitudes: “Los calcetinas huelen mal.”
Good one, huh? “Los calcetinas huelen mal.” Just sort of rolls right off the tongue: “Los calcetinas huelen mal.”
It means: “The socks smell bad.”
Call me Ortimer-may Erd-snay.