I quit French in Grade 10.
My parents warned me not to. In English, to be clear. I didn’t listen. In any language. Sounds natural for a 14 year old, doesn’t it?
Of course, they were right. I was wrong. Still am. Even more so today than in 1979. As my career has revealed the obvious flaw of not being able to speak French, while attempting to be a marketing thought leader in Canada, I regularly kick myself for being unilingual. Especially given the extent to which Québec embraces activation, promotion, celebrity endorsement, sponsorship, festivals and events.
The issue has amplified itself through meeting industry colleagues from around the globe who speak English, their native tongue, and many times a third or even fourth language. Somehow whenever I confess my limited vocal repertoire I almost feel like it is self-identification of not being as talented.
Then of course there is the fraudulent recognition of this issue on my personal TO DO list. Using an amazing app called OmniFocus and some cool tools from Success Magazine’s Best Year system, I think I’ve got myself pretty focused on my career, family, and personal pursuits. But amidst all of the goal setting and self-assessing resides this recurring task entitled “Learn French.”
It’s been on there a long time. It even pre-dates my iPad and was in existence when I utilized many of their task lists and software tools. It spurred the downloading of some online software, the purchase of Rosetta Stone, heck twenty years ago it even had me trundling off to night classes.
The result? Non!
I can’t even order deep fried potatoes. Let alone count to dix. Or say hello, without it sounding somewhat pornographic.
So I am resigned to stick to English. But lately I have realized that being unilingual in my primary tongue isn’t really all that helpful either. It seems that a person needs to be multilingual even within the framework of one language. Because if your world is like mine, the English you speak has multiple variations depending on to whom (who?) you are speaking.
It dawned on me the other day when I went from a call with a client with some of my staff present in my office. On the call I was sweet, kind and empathetic. Off the call I was direct, directive, and a wee bit impatient.
When I talk with my pets I am goo-goo ga-ga, like they are babies in diapers. But when I talk to my human babies, who are now nine and eleven, I bark orders like they have just entered the cadets.
When I talk to my Starbucks barista I am interested in his or her weekend or their day off; but when it comes to a call center employee they get the full monty of condescension.
I also think that when I speak English to some people, it’s coming out Greek. Sometimes when I am enthusiastic people think I am mad at them. Sometimes when I write a two-word email, people read it like a sentencing from a Supreme Court judge. Sometimes my blog hits people so personally they feel like Ann Landers has told people about their incontinence problem.
It’s befuddling to me that I think I am speaking the same language to people and they are hearing something different. It may be befuddling to you that it took FORTY-SEVEN YEARS for me to come to this realization. Trust me, it happened years ago but the communications forum called the b-l-o-g had not yet been invented.
So now I have a self-development dilemma of the most critical nature. Do I get off my procrastinating derrière and start learning French? Do I start to say Bonjour to perfect strangers? Do I begin to share my fries? (If you have ever dined with me you know my views on sharing food.)
Or perhaps I need to learn how to speak Anglais in a more consistent manner first. Maybe try smiling when I am talking to staff. Maybe think through my emails before I send them. Or at least read them twice, before I hit the blue button.
Perhaps a day in a call center (preferably New Brunswick over Mumbai….oh, oh I just insulted some folks) would soften my tones.
I do wish I could speak more than one language. Is it too late to learn? How many languages do you speak? I think having a language buddy may help. That way I could experience an immersion and hear how the words are supposed to be spoken.
Perhaps that’s the answer for all my language issues. English immersion. French immersion. I’m off next August to Barcelona on vacay, so maybe even Spanish immersion.
Me and my mother tongue are awaiting your advice.