As much as the taunting from fellow teenagers hurt when I was growing up with a stutter, when I look back through the eyes of my 42 year old self now, that isn’t what I’m most upset about. Sure, at the time it hurt, like all teasing and bullying does, but what really gets to me, having “survived” my stutter and now forming an active and wonderful part of regular normal society (whatever that is), is that my stutter prevented me from learning a second language.
I grew up in Canada. Canada has two official languages – English and French. I speak English and only English. I probably only know a few words of French. In fact, I probably know more Arabic from my time in the Middle East than I do French. And I don’t know that much Arabic either! While all my fellow classmates were off taking French or German or Spanish (the big three second languages taught in schools), I was not talking to anyone in my own native tongue. To get into most major universities and colleges in Canada you need a second language credit on your transcripts. A lack of one on mine (and the bare minimum of science credits – I just didn’t like the science subjects [maybe cause I couldn’t write my way through them]) was possibly going to prevent me from attending university or college.
I did eventually go to college (3 times), but that is not important right now. What is important, is my yearning to learn a second language after all these years. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel in my time. While my sisters both got married and started families at a young age, my disposition to be the “eternal bachelor” (for better or worse I might add) saw me do other things. And one of the major reasons for moving to the Middle East to work was that it opened up so much more of the world to me. In fact, within my first year in Saudi Arabia, my passport had been stamped in 10 different countries (Saudi, Bahrain, Qatar, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Jordan, Lebanon, UAE). Since then, I’ve added another half dozen countries to the list while returning to some old ones.
I travel because I love meeting people and soaking in new cultures. I’ve probably learned more on my travels than I have from a textbook. And I’ve learned a lot from textbooks. I recently came back from a 4 day golf holiday in Portugal. My golf skills leave a lot to be desired, but my personality has me make quick friends and I’ll talk to anyone – a far cry from 30 years ago. While English is pretty much universally spoken, I would love to just sit down one day and try and have a conversation in another language. And although it should, Klingon doesn’t count! Not that I speak Klingon either. And truth be told, one of the items on my bucket list is to “seduce a woman in a foreign language” so if I can’t speak one, I’ll never cross that off the list.
And while it is infinitely harder to learn another language at an advanced age, my confidence has never been higher and the life lessons I have learned would probably be to my advantage. The new problem is I have no idea what language to learn.
The natural choice would be Arabic but Dubai isn’t a long term destination for me so I can’t see that as logical. German would probably be the best, since they finally control Europe, but no offense to any Germans out there; it is not a nice sounding language. Everything sounds angry and harsh in German. It scares me, if I’m honest. French would also be logical, given my Canadian upbringing (and if I get this job I applied to in France it might be necessary), but I’m leaning away from that one. I think I’m most drawn to Spanish and Italian at the moment. I always wanted a little apartment overlooking the water in Spain where I would just lock myself away and write. Maybe that’s why Spanish is always in my thoughts. And I can order beer in Spanish already so I’m half way there, aren’t I? Italian is just a beautiful sounding language. It almost sounds like you’re singing everything. And who doesn’t like singing? But I have more Spanish speaking friends than Italian speaking friends. In theory, I have more Afrikaans speaking friends than anything else. But then again, most of the people I work with are Indian so maybe Urdu would be wise? I just don’t know.
I also know that procrastination will get the better of me anyway and I’ll probably only learn a couple of words to make me feel better about myself but not completely elated. Oh the conundrums I conjure up for myself.