Sunday, February 06, 2011

multlingualism in the passport line at the post office

When we decided that we were ready to try to bring another child into this world, my husband and I discussed a few things that I'd like us to do before we plunge into a few more years where our lives will be ruled by a ten-pound dictator. He agreed. And while we decided that a trip to all the francophone countries in Europe wasn't a good use of our time and money this year, we are at least going to have five days at a family-oriented all-inclusive resort in Mexico at spring break! (I wanted a vacation where I could go swimming every day and not have to plan out activities and transportation and lodging. And it was too expensive to go all the way to the French-speaking islands in the Caribbean.)

This necessitated ordering a passport for Griffin--his first passport! Spending an hour in line at the post office yesterday waiting to turn in our paperwork meant that we had lots of time to chat with the people standing beside us. And it was so very interesting! One family was renewing the teenage daughter's passport so they could return to India this summer. Turns out that she is trilingual (English plus two Indian languages) and has studied Spanish extensively in school. As the garrulous, heavily-accented father pointed out, "If you're growing up in Colorado, you should learn Spanish." (He was also able to recommend to us the best Indian restaurant in the area.)

Behind us in line was another teenager, this one a student at a private Catholic high school (who now wants to volunteer with my Reading Buddies enrichment program at the library!). She was getting ready for a school trip to Italy. "Oh! Do you speak Italian?" I asked her. Turns out the only languages her school offers are Latin and French, so she's been studying Latin all along. (That's what I started with in ninth grade as well, as most North Carolina schools in the 1980s didn't teach foreign languages until high school.) And she says she loves her Latin class!

When these folks asked us if we spoke Spanish, since we had announced our plans to travel to Mexico, my husband and I had to look at each other sheepishly and say, "Not really." Now, I'm always suprised by how much I understand, thanks to several different first-year Spanish classes over the years, having to communicate with non-English-speaking families in my work at the library, and spending eight years of my professional life in a foreign language department, hearing the Spanish profs chatting constantly (even sharing an office with the Spanish TAs one year).

But being able to get the gist of conversations in familiar contexts does not make me a Spanish speaker! I'll be curious to see what I can understand and communicate in Mexico.

Anyway, it was just cool to meet teenagers for whom language learning was a given, and an enjoyable one at that.

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