I am embarrassed to be an American when we travel -- on my own behalf and on behalf of my country. Europeans are often fluent in several languages. When we were in Spain recently, even shopkeepers in tiny produce stores could communicate with us. We at least tried to respond in our host country's tongue.
Our daughter did well - she was able to understand several speakers and managed to conduct several transactions on her own. The trip certainly made her more confident and she enjoys Spanish. But when I hear people move effortlessly from one language to another, I am jealous and humbled.
I took French and German in high school -- and got great grades. I could read and write (somewhat) but I could not confidently speak -- and I'd say I have lots of company. Just think of the hours all of us have spent in language classes. What do we have to show for it?
Now, New York State's famously tough Regents tests will, after this year, no longer measure what's been learned in French, Spanish and Italian classes. You can still take classes, but there will be no statewide gauging of success. And I just learned that the Spanish lit class our high school offers as a final, in-depth study of the language, will likely be cut for budget reasons.
I doubt that when our teens head off to college that their skills will improve. Why are we such a nation of language louts at a time when clear communication becomes more and more critical?
Je ne sais pas.