Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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September 18, 2012

Fluent is a matter of opinion

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 English (Such As It Is), 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. Of course, it might have helped if I had visited France, but that's beside the point.

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 of Kansas); "Vestis virum reddit" (clothes make the man); and "Semper ubi sub ubi" (always wear underwear).

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