We tried using sign language with Sammy when he was a baby, and while he clearly understood us, and responded appropriately, he never used signs himself so we stopped. (I think we figured, why sign when we can speak?) Unfortunately for us, Sam’s taken the same attitude toward spoken language, and rarely speaks when he can get his message across another way. I shouldn’t even say unfortunately, except that it gets frustrating sometimes when I just want him to tell me what he wants to eat so I don’t have to name every single thing we’ve got. But I know he understands the language and is capable of speaking it. He just doesn’t seem to feel it’s necessary.

(Actually, he talks all the time. In Japanese or Sindarin or something. He has a lovely, lovely voice that I never get tired of listening to. But oh, how I wish I knew what he was saying.)

In sixth grade I studied German after school. The materials used focused primarily on conversational language, which I think was very smart. (Amusingly, they were at least partially written materials.)

Seventh grade didn’t offer any language. The attached high school, which I never attended, offered French and Spanish. The magnet school I attended in eighth grade (my last year of formal education before college) taught Latin. A few years later I briefly studied French with a woman named Holly who’d met her Arab husband in Paris. At the time he didn’t speak English and she didn’t speak Arabic so they conversed only in French. Their son was tri-lingual, but would answer questions in English no matter what language they were asked in. Later I studied sign language, but pidgen signed English rather than ASL (which has its own grammar structure).

I only speak English. I know a few words, songs, and phrases in other languages (kitchen Spanish, anyone?) but half the time I don’t really know what I am saying. Thank goodness beer is pronounced the same in so many languages.

Last week I decided that I want to go live in Germany. Some day. I don’t know for how long– anything from a month to a year, I imagine. I have no idea if we’ll ever do it, but I’m thinking of trying to learn the language anyway. I wonder whatever happened to my old textbook.

13 thoughts on “Language

  1. Cazzle

    September 7, 2008 at 1:30pm

    Since the best way to pick up a language is exposure, I think you should move in with Christine. Immediately. ;)

  2. KS

    September 7, 2008 at 1:55pm

    We dream of moving to Mexico for a year or two for the same reason. There is NO excuse for us not knowing Spanish…we both studied it in school, hell, I was a Spanish minor for a few years in college, and we lived in Tucson for almost four years. We should really be more conversational than we are.

  3. Christine

    September 7, 2008 at 2:44pm


    Not that I’m over-enthusiastic or anything. NOT AT ALL. Except, you know, I think you should TOTALLY come and live with me. I say again: commune! (If you wait about five to ten more years, I’ll have my estate with lots and lots of animals by then, too!)

  4. yojo

    September 7, 2008 at 5:41pm

    Can I come too? I have been railing at the Carpenter over my pointless and strange fantasies about moving to Berlin…for no reason.

    yojo’s last blog post..Clearing the Tubes

  5. DropEdge

    September 7, 2008 at 9:05pm

    I’m looking forward to meeting Sam even more, now, since it means I can keep my trap shut and communicate with someone in sign rather than (my heavily accented) speech.

    In related news, my family uses both sign and verbal speech with my cousin’s 17-month-old son, Liam. And while he’s slowly adding words to his verbal speech, Liam signs far more words than he speaks aloud; in fact, he’s created his own signs for various words/concepts. Interestingly, these are the same words/concepts he (apparently) refuses to speak aloud. (“Drink” comes immediately to mind. Liam will both sign and [verbally] say “eat” and “ninny” [their term for breastfeeding], but he will only sign “drink” — which is a sign he created himself that seems to combine the signs for “work” and “night”; it’s probably no coincidence that he’s night weaning now because his mother is pregnant with her second child.)

    Also –and I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before, so forgive me for the duplication — but one of my uncles (my father’s youngest brother) didn’t begin speaking aloud until he was almost three. He just had ZERO interest in communicating verbally — which scared the hell out of my grandmother (a second grade teacher). But within a few short weeks (Or maybe even days; I gather it happened REALLY quickly.) of his beginning to speak aloud, said uncle was speaking in complete sentences. The story is that my grandmother regularly sent her youngest son several blocks away to the store where his father worked, equipped with only a mental grocery list she had given him to recite. And all this was, supposedly, within just a couple of weeks of his acquiring speech. (This was in rural Arkansas in the 1950s, so I actually kind of believe this story in terms of the safety issues and such.) Anyway, it turns out he (the uncle) was some sort of math genius who relates best to numbers; in high school he would calculate exactly how many problems he would have to get right on the next Algebra/Geometry/Calculus exam to maintain his place at the top of the class. He became a math teacher and then ran the state’s distance learning upper-math courses; he’s since been a school principal and superintendent.

    That’s all a really long way of saying that I wouldn’t spend more than a minute thinking about Sam’s lack of verbal vocabulary at this point. Sure, you could force him to speak by refusing to give in to his needs/requests/demands the way my mother — a special ed teacher — did. (That is, I didn’t get “it” — no matter if “it” was food or water or a hug or whatever – until I verbalized said request. This is, perhaps, a big part of why I didn’t manage to double my birth weight by my first birthday; yet, according to my mother, her tactic was the only way I was going to “learn.”) But that way lies anger and resentment (I should know.), so I wholeheartedly support your current approach.

    DropEdge’s last blog post..Bradi Lately

  6. Natalie

    September 8, 2008 at 8:48am

    Sounds like a good plan. Gehen Sie fur es (go for it…courtesy babel fish. 10 weeks of 7th grade German is gone. all gone. kaput as they say).

    Natalie’s last blog post..The End of Summer

  7. kara marie

    September 8, 2008 at 9:26am

    Language learning is such an interesting thing. I didn’t verbally communicate more than the basics “mama”, “up”, “me too” etc until I was nearly 4 years old. Then I started speaking in full conversational sentences.

    Of course, I had an older sister who did most of the talking for me, but I was just one of those that absorbed everything, and then when I needed to use what I knew (when my sister went to school) just pulled it out and started using it.

    Now you can’t shut me up! I am however, horrible at learning other languages beyond the basics of memorizing a few vocab words to help when travelling, etc.

  8. Jenn

    September 9, 2008 at 12:09pm

    I didn’t say my first work until almost 3. But I walked at something crazy like just over 7 months.

    Somewhat amusing given that now I don’t really ever STOP talking.

    Jenn’s last blog post..Is Very Tired

  9. Phoebe

    September 10, 2008 at 10:00pm

    The other day someone walked into the bookstore where I work and wanted this book she thought was called “The Pocket Guide to ASL” or something. I showed her the one ASL book we had which was a dictionary/phrasebook thing. She decided she wanted that specific book called pocket guide something so I ordered it for her,after I did it she offered “I need it because we’re getting a deaf dog.”

    What???? That pretty much made my day. Why not teach the dog Japanese sign language? It’s not like it will do anyone any favors for anyone who happens to know ASL to be able to communicate with this dog! I just loved that.
    I also wish I knew another language fluently. I know a couple languages kinda well and one or two more not well at all. Here’s to fluency for all of us, in the future.

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