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"The Second Language"

     I have just returned from Rochester, NY, where I visited my
daughter and three of her daughters.  While there I was able to
assess what happened to one of the girls, Erin, who spent last
year in Guadalajara, Jalisco, in Mexico.  In effect she did her
sophomore year of high school, immersed in a second language,
Spanish.  The transformation in her was delightful to behold.
     A similar thing had happened to me ages earlier, when I was
24, when I took wife and family to Madrid for a year.  Erin's
mother, Mary, had it done to her that same year -- she became a
bilingual three-year-old.  That's when it's so easy.  She taught
me the subjunctive, by example, when books and tutors couldn't
make it clear.  "No quiero que tu vayas" [I don't want that you
should go], I overheard her say to her mother, and something
clicked in my head.
     The second language makes one smarter, not stupider.  The
mono-linguists, who believe that all languages except English
should be illegal, if not abolished altogether, are absolutely
wrong.  I know about this, and they don't, because I am
bilingual, and they are not.  One language only is a severe
deficiency.  U.S. diplomacy has suffered in recent decades
because this arrogant imperialistic monolingualism has held sway
in that area, and the adversaries, whoever they are, are at a
great advantage because they know English, and our
representatives are not fluent in Russian or Spanish or Swahili
or whatever.  It's what happens when used car salesman buddies
with large contributions are appointed ambassadors instead of
career linguist/diplomats.  But I digress.
     For me learning the second language made me more aware.  It
doubled the number of nerve endings -- it doubled the number of
things one can say, the number of ways of saying them.  It
doubled the number and variety of thoughts one can have -- and I
was able to see that that had happened in the last year to Erin. 
It's a process which opens up the skull, loosens the tongue,
prepares one for new people, new ideas, new possibilities.
     Thinking all that, remembering things, observing it in my
granddaughter, gave me great delight, and took me back to when
the process was done to me.  I had two tutors a day in Spanish.
One was a bookish old maid who made me write essays and our
conversation consisted of her correcting my efforts.  The other
was a young man who became my best friend in Spain.  He took us
to the market, the zoo, the park, the museum, the movies -- "See
the same movie over and over until you get it..."  I saw 20,000
LEGUAS BAJO EL MAR six or seven times, and did "get it," finally.
     And now I feel sad.  I lost him, that tutor/friend of mine,
and I don't know how it happened.  He was married while I was
there in Spain.  The couple came to this country, to graduate
school.  I changed careers.  I was divorced and remarried.  He
changed careers.  He was divorced and remarried, and in all that
confusion we lost each other.
     So now I want him back, and can't find him.  Emilio Gabas. 
Native of Spain.  Sometime visitor to Canada.  When I last heard
from him he was in the import business.  Are you out there,
Emilio?  Does anyone out there know who you are, and where you
are?  Age, about seventy, by now, which doesn't seem possible,
but I can do the arithmetic, starting with my own age.
     Emilio was becoming bilingual, too.  "You like English," I
said to him.  "Te gusta el ingls."
     "(Por qu?"
     "Porque con pocas palabras se dice mucho." [Because with few
words you can say a lot.]  He liked all our monosyllables, but
was something of a poet in his own language, also.  I'd love to
make contact, again.
* * *
Copyright © 1997 Harry Willson

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