Whoa, my limited foreign language "proficiency" has flipped

Back in High School (about 13 years ago) our school had three choices for a foreign language: French, Spanish, and German. They did add Mandarin Chinese when I was a junior. I picked French, because most of the cute girls chose French. :rolleyes:

And I was pretty good at it! I mean, I took the French AP exam and got a 4. Hell, on a school trip to France I can remember conversing with the natives - not fluently, but I got by and they didn’t spit on me for being an ugly American.

I dropped foreign language in college. Engineering is rigorous enough; the course load was so heavy I didn’t want to spend time keeping up and improving my French. So by now I’ve forgotten a lot of it, which is a real pity. I love language, and I feel this as a real loss.

But in the meantime I’ve moved to an area with a fairly significant Hispanic (mostly Mexican immigrant) population (~50% in the town I work in; probably a bit less where I live but still significant.) So there’s Spanish-speakers and Spanish signage everywhere. I’ve lived here 7 years.

Slate linked to a campaign ad from Sarkozy earlier this week. I watched it because I’ve been following the dealings with Europe and its financial crisis with interest. Oh, jeez. Watching it, I realize - I do really poorly on comprehension just on listening. The campaign ad was helpfully subtitled (in French) and I do a bit better on reading comprehension, but still pretty poorly. I understood maybe 40% of the ad.

And then I realized - I hear Spanish conversations every day. I see Spanish text, see Spanish language television and interact with people whose first language was Spanish. And it hit me - I comprehend Spanish a lot better these days than I do French. I’m not claiming to be a speaker (in fact, trying to speak it is where I’m at my worst. I wouldn’t dare try it with a native speaker. A good friend is Puerto Rican, and I bounce pronunciations off her (which she corrects) but that’s as far as I’ve gone in trying to speak.)

I’m 10 miles away from anything approaching understanding (let alone fluency), but overhearing a conversation in Spanish I understand probably 50% more (though still, admittedly, not much) than I do seeing an ad - subtitled - in French. Which I studied for 4 years in high school and 3 years in middle school.

Man, I wish I could go back in time to high school and pick Spanish instead. And then keep it up through college. I’d probably be fluent by now, and that would be damn useful. :smiley:

I’m pretty much the same way, I have been speaking Spanish since I was roughly 6 years old, took Russian in college, and I have spent the past week in Belgium plus a weekend in Paris. I still use Spanish every now and then, it’s by far my strongest language still. The Russian I use rarely and I can feel it slipping away from me in terms of comprehension, I have to force myself to listen to the news and read it so it doesn’t go away completely. I’m happy to say that in a week I have gotten a fairly comfortable level of French comprehension down, probably from the linguistic similarity to Spanish. Language is fun :slight_smile:

I took years of French and barely remember a few words. I can’t even build a proper sentence.

My Portuguese, on the other hand, can fool Brazilians into thinking I’m from some other part of Brazil. Maybe the fact that I started dating a Brazilian woman made a difference :cool:

It made learning a language fun and useful instead of boring drudgery and wrote memorization.

(we have been married 20 years now)