I spent the last eleven days in Italy speaking, or trying to speak, Italian among other foreign languages. I also spoke a second non-foreign language, Irish. Irish is a great language to have. Very few people speak it worldwide. When wanting to speak in privacy abroad, the chances are you’re safe with it. I spoke it a few times with my family.

Before I went to Italy, I had every intention of teaching myself some Italian. I even bought a couple of books for goodness sake. I never got around to doing anything about it! What a shame. As each day went by, I enjoyed the challenge more and more of battling my way through with the nonexistant Italian I did have. I remember bit by bit how much I had loved speaking and learning languages throughout my life.

At a very early age I remember sitting in my kitchen with my mother having a very basic conversation in French with her over and over. Hello, hello, how are you? Okay, and you?….. Day after day – God love her. I remember colors with their French names all over the wall too. I can’t remember my exact age, but I was definitely in single digits.

As I aged, I remember a teacher of mine in first year (seventh grade) instilling a huge love of Irish on me. Irish is mandatory for all Irish kids from the age of four through eighteen. Unfortunately this puts a lot of kids off, which subsequently means they don’t absorb much. Miss Ní Annracháin was an excellent teacher, and extremely enthusiastic. I never had much love for German which I studied from twelve to fifteen. I think my French and Irish had taken over.

I studied French in school from twelve to eighteen. I had a variety of teachers – some good, others bad. I had a few trips to France in that time, and had gone several times in early childhood. That had laid down an early love for the language. A friend and I, aged seventeen, visited my sister who was studying in a college near Paris. We went alone into Paris on the train, did all the touristy things, did the metro alone, and spoke French. I was so proud of us, and loved every minute of it. I couldn’t imagine living my life in an English speaking country. Why would you want to do that?

When I was twenty three, I finished my undergraduate degree. My college friend had a brother in Chicago. She was planning to spend the summer there working. She asked me to come. I asked my friend who had come to Paris with me when we seventeen to come. We went with nine others to Chicago. The three of us girls got a job working in an Irish bar. Little did I know at the time, but in most bars in Chicago, all the back-staff are Mexican or Spanish speaking. In Irish bars most of the wait staff are Irish – born there. Over the summer I learned a surprising amount of Spanish. Most of it was restaurant related, but I began to love another language.

I return to Chicago to live in the summer of 2003 at the age of twenty five. I went back to waiting tables in Irish bars. Once again it gave me a chance to practice my Spanish. I met my Mexican husband in April 2005. His English was minimal. Both of us had to practice out English and Spanish. I had already started formal Spanish lessons which I continued for two years. My Spanish is now probably the best of my languages, second only to my English.

On the plane on the way home from Italy yesterday I realized this is a hobby I have loved but neglected for years. It is something I can spend time on and enjoy. The only dilemma I have is which language to spend time on. My gut reaction is Italian, because it’s the worst, and I’m enchanted by my trip. It is however the one I am least likely to use anytime soon. There are rumblings about a family trip to France next year. I used to be very good at French. Nowhere near fluent, but well able to hold a conversation. I struggled immensely in Italy to hold a French conversation. Or maybe it should be Spanish. It is so widely spoken in the U.S. but how likely is it that I will go to a Spanish speaking country anytime soon? Decisions, decisions…..

I don’t know.
Níl a fhios agam.
Non lo so.
Je ne sais pas.
Ich weiß nicht.
No lo sé.

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