Thursday, March 10, 2011

I was recently asked how many languages I speak.

The answer is four. Kind of.

When I think about this I realise it's pretty cool.

I speak English pretty well, that's a given. It's the language I conduct my life in. And yes, I realise I ended that last sentence with a preposition and started this one with "and". But part of being an artist (yes, I called blogging an art... deal with it) is knowing the rules yet breaking them. Look at Picasso. Odds are he knew what an actual woman looked like.

I grew up in Montréal, a bilingual city. When I got here my French was already pretty suspect because I had gone to English schools, worked in predominantly English parts of town and hung out with English kids. Not speaking French on a regular basis has made it suffer. Badly. If I watch a French tv show or movie, I can only understand about 70% of it. Thankfully I send my kids to French Immersion schools so they keep me on my toes. And Ottawa is quite bilingual, though not as much as Montréal, so I'm exposed to it quite often.

I was never that confident speaking French although I can understand it pretty well. It's funny that I'm more embarrassed to speak French in Ottawa or Montréal than I was when I visited Paris. Here, the attitude feels like: "What do you mean you can't speak French? What's wrong with you?" and over there the attitude felt more like: "Aww... how cute, she's trying. She sounds dumb but she's trying."

American Sign Language:
When I first moved to Ottawa I lived downtown. At least once a day I'd see deaf people at the mall or in the park signing away furiously. I'd look on jealously, wondering what they were saying. Finally I decided to take an ASL course. It was so amazing that I kept taking them until I was one credit shy of my certificate. Then I got pregnant and totally sidetracked. I love knowing how to sign. When Scott and I went to Jamaica we went on a snorkeling trip on a sailboat. There was a deaf couple who kept having to ask the tour operator to repeat everything so they could read his lips. When we got to the snorkelling spot he started giving out detailed instructions on what and what not to do and they looked pretty frustrated. I stepped up and translated things about sea urchins and stingrays and they were so grateful. They wouldn't stop thanking me and bought us drinks all night later at the resort. I felt so proud.

Okay, I only took Spanish for a semester in college but it really stuck. Also I learned Spanish from Sesame Street and speak it to anyone who'll listen so you know, I'm totally great at that language. Really. I know all the days of the week and the months of the year and everything.


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