Thursday, February 17, 2011


When I was about eight, our teacher, Mr Rudolph, gave us a list of Christmas songs (really, I didn't make up that pun). We could chose two songs and take home a cassette copy of each, to practice. We were to return to class on a specific day, and perform the song before the class. The kids chosen the best performers for each song, would go on to perform before parents and teachers at the Christmas pageant. I was chosen the best...Bing Crosby.

Shane N. was chosen best Elvis. But that didn't mean I quit practicing. On the day of the pageant, Shane didn't show up for school. His mom called him in sick. I still have a VHS copy, somewhere, of myself, in one of my dad's cardigan sweaters, my hair slicked back, probably with crisco, lip-syncing to Bing Crosby's White Christmas. And me again, in an adult-sized, brown leather jacket, and sunglasses, lip-syncing to Elvis's Blue Christmas.

One of the things that has always stood in the way of me learning another language is stage fright. I was always too embarrassed to practice in front of other people, my mind going blank. I also used the very common American excuse, that I have no need for another language. Which of course only assures that when I do need it I don't have it. As I aged, I figured that, like a dog, I couldn't learn anything new, especially not a thing so complicated as a language.

Then a large batch of exceptional music from around the world came to me through a friend. I found myself dancing to this music, but also, without really thinking about it, lip-syncing. Suddenly, I found myself singing songs in languages I don't know how to speak, in some cases not even knowing what the language is. It wasn't until recently, when I sung Musica, by the artist Nawal, to a Kenyan woman, that she informed me, she thought, I was singing Swahili. Honestly, I still don't know for sure that it is. I do know I can sing the song, acapella, beginning to end.

There is a vast gulf between singing a song in Swahili and speaking competently with another in Swahili. It's a start, though, a strong foundation really, if I decide to learn Swahili. Which got me thinking again about Spanish, and for reasons of my own, Brazilian Portuguese and French.

I've recently compiled forty songs, in these three languages, and I listen to those songs daily. Already, after only two weeks, I'm lip-syncing several of the songs most of the way through, some energetically, some so much that I'm starting to sing. My ears are tuning themselves to the subtleties of each language. My mouth is learning to form the words. It comes easier if I get out of the way. It doesn't matter that I don't know what the words mean. The intellect will follow the mouth and the ear, I reason.

Spanish is the priority, as it's the most widely spoken language in the western hemisphere besides English, and I have a direct reason, my niece, who is bi-lingual but struggling with her Spanish. Unfortunately, I've always had trouble distinguishing individual words in spoken Spanish. Now, my ear can grasp the delivery, which is progress. I know what a few words mean. I can read Spanish out loud, sort of, even if I don't really know what I'm saying. The Barrons program I use, designed in the eighties for the US Foreign Service, is great if I want to speak in a condescending manner. I don't, but it's still a fine exercise. My next step is to find a book on tape in Spanish, and the book in Spanish, to follow along.

Brazilian Portuguese is currently the most fun, as the music is the most joyous and the words are more comprehensible. French is, well, a challenge. I can see how it might be fun, though, someday.

Of course, I know, if I really want to learn these languages, I will have to go live among people who speak them. That is my intention.

Time is a problem in the immediate, however, as this time next month I'll be out of money, about the same time I perform at Patrick's Cabaret. A job doesn't bode well for the learning of three languages and the writing of a second book. Hopefully, I'll be done with the second draft by then.

What could I do with 99 weeks of unemployment compensation? Too bad, I never qualified.

1 comment:

Chad said...

I'm going to need a copy of that video. Please post one directly.