(Featured Image: author in a tent in Alaska profiting from some time off to crack the Chinese books)
Read Part One HERE
In the two years I spent with the regular army, I knew there was no interest in whitey who spoke Chinese, so I kept it fully to myself. The men of the regular army culture were not the sort to understand why, or otherwise appreciate a brother who spoke Chinese. I never breathed a word of it.
Coming into the Green Berets was a different story. The men there actually respected a brother that was accomplished in a foreign language, a requisite for every Green Beret. I took an aptitude exam required for attendance at the Defense Language Institute (DLI), scoring an ‘unqualified’.
I did what any sensible suicidal maniac would do, I went to the testing lab and took both the Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese language DLI final exams. I passed both with sufficient scores to receive monthly language proficiency pay of $100 per month.
I only had to take a language test once per year to keep my pay coming. In the day, I was informed that I was the only person in the military taking the Cantonese exam. I got to where I was getting every single question correct on the exam… except one. It was driving me nuts because I felt like I was getting them all correct.
I learned the question was a very difficult one to translate. It is a short proverb, and the answers were: 1.) Can’t see the trees for the forest 2.) A miss is good as a mile 3.) Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I could get a room full of Chinese arguing about the answer; they couldn’t all ever seem to agree. I may never know the right answer. Alas!
I taught myself Spanish in 7th Special Forces, when I left there and was assigned to Key West as a SCUBA instructor, I taught myself French as a means to better understand Spanish. I started (no kidding) with the book “French in Ten Minutes a Day.”
Why stop there, and when I made it to the Delta Force I had friends there who spoke German, mainly Pat McNamara, Steve C., and Dale “American Badass Comstock.” I taught myself German with their assistance and tested out once again on the DLI post exam.
I went to South America for Delta several times, which really bolstered my ability to understand Spanish. The fall of Yugoslavia provided another language opportunity, albeit a difficult Slavic dialect, Serbian/Croatian (SC). I started three months prior to my deployment to Bosnia, stuffing as much of a State Department SC language course into my head as possible before deploying.
Being in a country and not speaking the language puts us at an extreme disadvantage if you are something other than a dip-shit tourist. I recognized that all my life, and set out to get out in front of that situation. ‘Know thine enemy,’ you might say about my drive to learn a foreign language.
I even vainly sought to borrow the notion that by increasing my ability to talk to more people, I would exponentially increase my odds of meeting more women! Yes, at one time I did like women, completely in spite of the gay bath house where I worked handing out towels (JK).
To my utter chagrin, I learned that the number of foreign women I would meet, would inevitably be subtracted from the overall quota of women, who would not have given me the time of day, had I actually mustered the fortitude to ask (for the time of day). Well, so I accepted that; fate sucker punches.
There are the languages I have tested out on, and there are the many others that I do not claim because I have no official credential for them. I have working knowledge of Russian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, and… well… Cajun French. I have been to Korea many times. I have been to Japan many, many times. I learned both 1.) Hiragana and Katakana on my fist ever flight over to Japan. I skipped the in-flight beverage service and just barely made it. The first time I parachuted into South Korea, I hit the ground already knowing the Korean alphabet, having learned it too, on the flight over.
Ok now so, what’s my secret? My secret is that I have no secret. I think right now Rosetta Stone has the market cornered on foreign language learning tools. Ah, so Rosetta Stone cracked the nut on fun and games and yippee, yahoo, look at me fun! Yeah baby… they figured out just enough fun time frilly gags to keep one more dead-end hack entertained, long enough to learn the word for apple in Korean (sa gwa).
Yes, the boob prize goes to the sucker that thinks some special organization has figured out a secret technique that will miraculous gift you a language w/o all that pesky studying and rote memorization… non-fun stuff. Learning a little bit of a language doesn’t have to suck, but learning a whole lot does. You have to decide which parts you want.
“Well, I just want to learn enough to order a beer.”
Well then go into a foreign bar and point to a beer, now give me your Rosetta Stone money, clown.
In Sarajevo, Bosnia my cohort and I suffered a flat tire one day. I quickly flipped through my phrase book to tally the best vocab for the situation. At a gas station I went inside looking for a serviceman and repeating to myself: “Kola ima prazna guma (the car has a flat tire). None found, I returned to the car to find a local brother already engaged in changing the flat tire.
My bud sat there in the passengers seat; I just had to ask: “What did you say to him to get him working on the flat? To which she responded: “I pointed at the flat tire and fluttered my lash.” Case in point for Geo: don’t complicate a simple solution. Touche’! I got the pointing part down, but my lash flutter just makes me look like I have something stuck in my eye.
Berlitz is another empty suit, bells and whistles imposter. I don’t know if they even exist anymore. Their hard-fast teaching technique is to put you in a classroom with a teacher who only speaks the foreign language to you; no English allowed. Raise your hands please, who in here sees the immediate and fatal flaw with that foolishness? Don’t be shy, raise your hands.
Allow me: babies are born with a tabula rasa mind; that is, they know nothing until they learn something. Albeit a vacuum, it does fill fast, the mind does, but once it learns a language, it doesn’t want another one wedging itself in there. Baby can learn two at once, but once the sweet spot timing is gone for early language learning, baby just wants an apple; baby doesn’t want a sa gwa!
Ten tricks to learning a foreign language, by George Edward Hand IV:
1-10: shut the fuck up and study; end of tricks.
The sad truth folks, is that to learn a language you are going to have to hear a word, and then you are going to have to hear it again. Then you are going to have to forget it and learn it again.
Until scientists invent a different kind of mind, you are stuck with the human mind, and the human mind doesn’t respond to tricks. If the mind senses that it is being tricked, it will retaliate by not learning.
Something I have learned all by myself that has turned out to be a thing: Geo says: “To try and forget, is to remember.” For example, I have noticed that for some stupid reason I can say “Please come to my house on Sunday for a game of chess” in Hebrew. Why?
Because as I was learning some phrases from a Hebrew language course, each time I got to that phrase I reminded myself to forget about it, because I would honestly felt I would never ever use such a phrase. Years later low/behold… et tout a mon chagrin… I still remember it. There is another long wordy phrase I remember in Hebrew, but no longer even know what it means, just that I should have forgotten it. Get it?
The mind only knows what it knows, and it will know what you fill it with. If you bombard your brain daily with a subject, your mind will learn that subject, it won’t be fooled by macaquerie disguised as a neat-o fun game. If you want to play games, open up Scrabble. If you want to learned a foreign language, play Scrabble in Spanish.
Geo says: Memorizing set phrases is Kool and the Gang, but it is not learning a foreign language. I can repeat many phrases in languages that I don’t fully speak. If you can understand a joke in a foreign language that is a play on words joke… you are pretty good in that language.
In a jail cell (don’t ask) with five other inmates, who were all Hispanic, I played the role of sole whitey laying on a mat on the floor listening to the other mates (in beds) chatting away in Spanish. One bro told a wordplay joke, at which the others chortled boisterously. I thought about it for a few moments, and finally ‘got’ it. I burst out in a gufaw. The others drilled me with their eyes, until I responded with yet another Spanish wordplay joke. They loved it. Whitey instantly became Jorge of the jail cell.
Ok so I’ll give you this: I am a fan of taking the sometimes hours of dead time spent driving, and turning them into foreign language study time. Yes, listen to that sentence on the tape/disk/IDK and then stop it. Repeat the sentence out loud ten times. Then move on to the next sentence. I swear just when you think you are getting nowhere, that language building in your subconscious will punch through.
Don’t mistake that for the wives’ tale that you can sleep with a book under your pillow, and learn its content as you sleep (he said, instantly pissing off wives). You will, if you are sincere about learning a foreign language, eventually boot strap up, knuckle under, and get down to some burning of the midnight oil. Take the pain!
Geo says: try not to get so concerned about making a mistake, that you fail to try and communicate in your target language. Remember that John Fitzgerald Kennedy called himself a jelly doughnut in front of the entire German Nation. Shit happens. And no, that is not why the United States went to war with Germany. It actually endeared JFK to the German people who understood what he meant, and appreciated his attempt.
Foreigners will always, and for the most part, appreciate your attempt at their language. Except the French; the French will immediately cut you and pour salt on the wound. The French are the world superpower of rude. They are the rudest most tactless race on the planet. Now, before any frogs try to call me out, recall that I am, by way of Nova Scotia and South Louisiana, a Frenchman, no matter how hard I try not to be—c’est la vie.
I only talk to animals in Cajun French. My excuse is that I feel like a total fool speaking English to them when people are around and can hear me. Go to a dog park. People there are talking to each other through their animals. Case in point: a dog barks at me. The owner chastises the dog by saying: “Fido, don’t you bark at that nice man.” Ok, was that really for the dog or for me? The answer is, it was for me. Do you know why? Because dogs don’t speak languages, and they never will.
I once had a woman at a dog park come up to me and in a loud, clear, slow voice ask me:
“Where. are. you. from?”
“South Bronx, hon.”
“Oh, you speak English…”
“Yes, it appears you do too, my sister.”
“Oh well yes, its just that you were speaking another language to your dog…”
“Yeah well my dog’s from Thibodaux, LA.”
“Well (said in the pissiest voice imaginable) my dog understands what I say to him.” Oh, I’m ever so sure he does understand: car, walk, food, snack, potty, bone, sit, stand, roll over, jump…etc. Those words make for a great conversation. As soon as your dog says something back, please notify me immediately!!!
Its the same way with people and their kids. Parents tend to say things to their children in public that are mostly for the rest of us, the public. In public they put on their best fake super mom and super dad capes and: “Billy, isn’t running around playing in the sun so much better than sitting in your room playing video games?” Wow, what a great dad that guy must be!!
The church cape is a different cape still. The vocabulary is much more truncated. People say things to their children at church that they wouldn’t dream of saying anywhere else. It’s because they are wearing their church cape. There is the church cape, the hardware store cape, the school field trip cape, and the restaurant cape. There are many capes, and what people say to their dogs or children in public depends on what cape they are wearing. The amount of capes a person owns is how desperately they need strangers to imagine what stellar parent they are.
That is why I brought my children up speaking Cajun French. I can say anything I want in public to my children without the fear that I will be judged by everyone around me. I can say to my kids: “My God son… would you look at how fat that woman is in front of us. If she starts backing up, head for the hills!” My son giggles and my daughter flushes with embarrassment. I have a public privacy with my children that I cherish to no end.
Interesting: I remember an outdoor cafe in Morocco where I called to a cat that was eying me while I ate: “Here kitty, come here, come get a bite, kitty… pssst come here.” Nothing. Cats in Morocco don’t don’t understand English, because they don’t speak English in Morocco. “Eh chere minou, viens icitt donc ‘oire.” and kitty comes. Ah, but they do understand French, apparently. Tres bien!
I used the study of one language only to bolster my understanding of another. Regardless, the incidental learning of another language still counts as learning another language. That is how I learned French. At-50-years old, having discovered my Acadian roots in the south of Louisiana, I pointed my lubber line at the old French dialect that came to America and then ceased to develop with the rest of modern standard French. It’s an old French, one that dates back to the mid 1700s.
While it is still French, Cajun can become unintelligible to a standard French speaker, should the Cajuns choose to not be understood. Say, but the French can play that same game, just switch to some modern hipster argot, and leave the Cajuns in the dust.
I do have certified, bonafide, petrified, mummified high scores in six foreign languages, as tested by the Military’s Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. The oddity herein lies, I have never been to DLI. In fact when I took the aptitude battery for foreign language study… I failed it. That is to say that I scored so low the army deemed me a poor risk to send to DLI for language training, and denied my request to attend,
I did what any normal self-loathing american male at the sound of “no” would do… I taught myself.
Geo sends, envia, envoit, sendet, shalje, fa, faat, manda
1.) Hiragana and Katakana are two Japanese alphabet systems each with about 44 letters. Each system serves its own purpose, and both are mixed with each other in a harmonious and aesthetic manner.