I want to be bilingual, for a variety of reasons. Personally, I don’t like feeling like such an “ugly American” when rubbing elbows with the international crew that comes along with dating a well-traveled half-Brazilian. Being able to speak another language would make me seem more worldly in front of the Jesus Luz to my Madonna, and less like I buy McDonald’s #2 combos at Wal-Mart and devour them in the frozen food aisle while I shop. Also, personally, I have dreams of being cross-country pen pals with Rosa, the Spanish-speaking cleaning lady at my old job in San Francisco. A sassy woman after my own heart, Rosa has flawless skin, an infectious laugh, and two big screen TVs in her apartment (which is much more than I can say for myself). But really, the importance of being bilingual goes far beyond that, especially for broke-asses.
Being bilingual is important because we live in a multicultural society and a global economy or whatever. It’s important because you don’t want to look like an ignorant dick, or some hillbilly who says things like, “these colors don’t run.” But mostly it’s important because it allows you to befriend people who are not like you, and gives you hook-ups all over the world (and I mean “hook-ups” as in, connections and… well, connections). Want to jet off to Barcelona, but can’t afford a hotel? Hello, thrifty traveler– just skype the Catalonian friend who you met at that hostel in Dublin and stay with him! Being a bilingual broke-ass is fun, can save you money, and makes you significantly less obnoxious to anyone who isn’t from the US.
However, becoming bilingual can be hard work. I started taking Spanish in the 7th grade, my aptitude for rolling my R’s quickly detected and propelling me into the “Advanced Group.” At my middle school, being in the Advanced Group meant that you got to go into the back room and learn Spanish from our bilingual classmate, Claudia, instead of from our horrible lady teacher with a mustache. But for me, being in the Advanced Group really meant that I had no adult supervision, and could flirt with a boy (a prince of a pre-teen who sported a belt buckle that read “PIMP” and constantly referred to me as “Woman”), instead of learning. My foreign language quest was put on hold for eyelash batting, that is, until Señora Mustache realized that the Advanced Group was just messing around and forced us to write a play in Spanish and perform it for the rest of the class as punishment. Our play was a translated episode of MTV’s TRL, in which I starred as Britney Spears and was subsequently made fun of for getting too impassioned during my performance of “Ups… lo hize otra vez” (that’s “Oops… I Did It Again” for you gringos).
The years of Spanish classes I took after that were also filled with distractions, like discussing last night’s episode of Gilmore Girls during all of Spanish 3. The point is, by the time I got out of high school I had taken 5 years of Spanish and was still shitty at it. It wasn’t until college, when I studied abroad in Madrid and lived with a Spanish lady and her pervy 12 year old son, Emilio, that I had to hunker down and learn how to tell Emilio to keep his tongue off of my door jamb (Literally– that little freak liked to stick his tongue through the crack in my bedroom door and wiggle it at me while I was on the computer). They didn’t speak English, so I was forced to learn how to communicate with them in their native tongue. And I did, but unfortunately not enough to get Emilio to stop asking me how to say “tetas” in English.
But now it’s a few years later, and while I can still understand Spanish, I sound like a tamale-loving Neanderthal when trying to string a sentence together. Out of college and with no money to take foreign language classes, it could seem that I am doomed to a life of riding around on a John Deere while screaming the lyrics to, “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Not so fast! Fortunately, expensive language software like Pimsleur can be checked out from the public library instead of purchased, and webcasts/podcasts of university foreign language classes can be found for FREE on iTunesU or some college websites. Reading children’s books in foreign languages will also help– the vocabulary is simpler, and there are pictures to help ignoramuses like yours truly understand what the hell is going on.
However, as I mentioned earlier, the best way to become bilingual is simply to immerse yourself in the language you want to learn– move in with a Spanish family and learn how to tell your hormonally-charged host brother to put on some pants… or, you know, just frequent the nearest ethnic restaurant, store, or bar and make some new friends. Before you know it, you’ll be having a tryst with your tango instructor, couch surfing with Cambodians, or flirting with Frenchies– strengthening the ties amongst the Broke-Ass United Nations.
Photo credit: www.theworldjournal.com