My nephew recently emerged the other side his GCSEs (he did brilliantly, thanks for asking) and I loved hearing all about his studies and progress along the way (as well as being extremely thankful that I didn’t have to sit mine again, let alone understand the latest grading system to come into play.)
It was my nephew’s grasp of languages that impressed me most, as I have complete admiration for people like him who study another language and shine at it (a nice shiny A*), with particular props to those who opt for the language route without bi-lingual parents.
At school I was surrounded by people studying everything from Chinese to Russian to Latin. I then went onto University, with many friends choosing to study Business with a language. When I started working at MTV, I was in the hub of the European Marketing Department and surrounded by colleagues who were multi-lingual, which I could only throw in the odd ‘ja’, oui and non, much like Joey in ‘Friends’.
As I sat back and listened to them commandeer events in French, German, Spanish and everything in between, I wish I had taken my studies further than just French and German A-level, in order to be able to get more involved at events. Whilst I had mastered fluent Avagav, it just wasn’t a widely recognised enough language.*
It’s some time ago, but random foreign words have stuck in my mind.
For the Germans out there:
Mein Vater ist ein Tankwart – My dad is a petrol pump attendant. (He isn’t, but this phrase was my GCSE pull-it-out-of-the-bag to impress the adjudicators one.)
Add to that a selection of favourite German words that friends and colleagues taught me:
Meerschweinchen = guinea pigs
sehr lecker = very tasty
Fledermaus = bat
..and for the French lovers:
Je suis une fille unique – I am an only child (Yep, still am.)
Pour aller au cinéma? – Which way is the cinema? …I wonder if anyone studying French has ever actually used this in a real life situation? Or the Town Centre for that matter. So cliché. (Pun intended.)
Pamplemousse = grapefruit
Parapluie = umbrella
That amazing ability to converse confidently in a foreign language still impresses me and revisiting languages is definitely up there on my list of things I want to do in the future.
If not just to be able to sing certain song lyrics properly. ‘Despacito’. ‘Mi Gente’. I’m singing something but it’s definitely not the right words.
Each summer I visit Spain (okay, just Marbella) and I can now confidently chuck in the odd ‘una bolsa’ (a bag) and ‘una mas’ (one more) in the ‘supermercado’ (oh, come on it’s not that cryptic). In my mind, with just a couple of words, a smile and a nod, they believe I am Spanish.
In reality, when the cashier tots up my shopping and announces, “Setenta seis euros y ochenta y ocho céntimos,” I freeze and hand over a €100 note and simply hope for the best. Literally, I have no idea past ten.
You see, communicating is ‘my thing’ if you haven’t realised. I get terribly frustrated when I can’t get my point across, which is the issue with my limited Spanish. I often get panicky when I have to make a restaurant booking, even with the help of iTranslate…
I can do the days of the week, thanks to a catchy little song my youngest learnt at nursery.
I can specify number of diners and the time I need the table for. When they reply with ‘Perfecto’ (great) or ‘Hasta mañana’ (see you tomorrow), it’s all good. Anything other than that and I usually hang up and pass the role onto a better-equipped person. (Husband.)
Even when I do manage a successful booking it can sometimes go wrong. Case in point this summer, when my kids really, really, really wanted to go back to the equivalent of Benihana’s and have scrambled egg flipped into their mouths from the hibachi grill. I try to get them to eat scrambled egg at home, but no such luck. Am considering flipping all non-desirable foodstuff at them with a spatula.
I had booked it for ‘Debbie’ (that’s me) for 8pm. I had booked early enough in the week. I had confirmed the day before. The kids were living for it.
Arrive at restaurant.
“No. No booking for Debbie, but you can sit at a normal table and order from the menu.”
“Errr. No.” I said. “My kids want omelette flipped at them.”
After much ‘discussion’, arm flapping and referring to the reservation book, it was 8:15. The other booking had clearly not shown up and I suggested we have the table or they lose custom anyway. On the way to the table I casually enquired who this other reservation was for. The other person was ‘Waby’.
Yes, I’m ‘Waby’.
I guess things get lost in translation.
(*campaigns to GCSE board to introduce Avagav as a recognised language option)