Apologies, U2, to have appropriated the name of your song. 1,020 days ago I took up language study. With Duo. Two reasons: a traumatic brain injury led me to languages and crosswords as a way to affirmatively heal from my accident and simultaneously prevent premature aging; and COVID took hold that month and we were all confined to barracks for the foreseeable future so why not?
My education up to college was all public education, despite the fact that when I was young my mother was a staunch Catholic and brought up in parochial schools. To her credit, she checked out the schools and found that the public schools in the village we were raised in were better. Then in middle school, we moved south of the Mason-Dixon line and I still was in public education but it was worse.
Ninth grade, I started French. Most kids took Spanish, and my best friend learned German, but I needed the language of the United Nations, the language of diplomacy, according to my parents! I took two years of French, which was so bad that when we moved back to New York State to begin my Junior year, I had to start over, so took French I and II through high school.
Fast-forwarding decades later, I decided to take Italian and chose Duo because I could learn at my own pace and it was nearly free.Nearly three years later, I’m still learning. I learned all five levels of Italian and felt able to be a tourist and order in a restaurant. But I could do that before Duo. I love Italian, so I started on French. Why? To learn how Europeans think about language.
Now I’m getting somewhere. After I finish all the French levels, considerably more comprehensive than Duo’s Italian program, I’m going back to ace Italian. Then perhaps Greek, once I learn the alphabet.
Before traveling to Europe, I always learned the basics such as good morning, good afternoon, hello, goodbye, please and thank you, excuse me and where is the bathroom. Also menus.
I’ve a theory that has proved out for me, at least. Northern languages and people are colder, like their weather and their food choices. They do not suffer fools, and language newbies, kindly. The further south one goes, the weather and people and languages grow more tolerant. I love Italian, and yes, I have been made fun of by speaking French in Paris, but then Parisians are not known for their tolerance of strangers.
Say please and thank you in Greek, in Athens, and the shop owner/restaurateur is delighted! One day, nearly forty years ago, my sister and I went to a tobacco shop in Athens to buy my father a cigar because I was flying home the next day. We had a long conversation with the shop owner, a woman, and aside from the requisite please and thanks we never uttered a word, except to laugh heartily. I said I wanted a cigar, she asked why two girls were taking up smoking, no, it’s for Dad! It was so much fun!
Same with my last night’s dinner in Athens. We walked in early (I had a flight out at the crack of dawn) and nearly walked out. The owner asked us to come back, and luckily we did, as he regaled us with a multi-course meal with beverage for each that was fantastic! In the end, we learned so much about what real Greeks eat (my sister insisted on spaghetti bolognese every day no matter the country) and the bill came to $7.50 apiece. We though the price outrageous, but then again my sister was upset that I used all the $25 my parents gave her for my 25th birthday for a “nice” hotel and that meal.
As to Duo, I’d like a more immersive experience, but I’ve learned a lot of the rules of the road, plus some vocabulary and I’d feel comfortable going to France, Italy, or even Greece. I’ll stick with it but know that if one tries, it goes to some length in erasing the negative impression of American tourists who always demand “Speak English!”
Whenever I order spanakopita or moussaka at the taverna nearby, I say please and thank you in Greek and the owner is delighted. His staff doesn’t understand, as they’re from Ecuador. Don’t worry, my husband took immersive Espanol in hopes of bringing his business to South and Central America one day. Learn a language, do a crossword puzzle and challenge your brain! Cheers! Dee