The Buck Starts
By Marge Van Ostrand
lazily drinking in the Spanish language, courtesy of the PBS Destinos
series and U.S. State Department audiotapes, with a little Berlitz for
a chaser, it occurred to me how easy a language it is to learn. Spanish
is wonderfully simple -you pronounce each letter in each word. What
a concept! It's straightforward, like its people. (One of these days,
I'll do the Mexican people a favor and try to get the grammar right.
On the other hand, I don't know how they're
doing it but many Mexicans are managing to learn English, despite the
difficulties inherent in mastering a language so different from their
When my European great grandparents came
to America, they spoke no English. Their children spoke little English
even though they were born in Manhattan. My father heard no English
at home so he himself spoke none until he started grammar school. Perhaps
they didn't think it necessary, since their neighbors didn't speak it
either. Or perhaps it was because English is one of the most difficult
languages in the world to learn, not even barring Sanskrit.
Frankly, I don't understand how anyone
can learn English as a second language, as spoken in America unless,
of course, their first language is English as spoken in England. American
English is also very typical of its people -a little from here, a little
from there, a little created by slangsters and gangsters, a little added
by immigrants, and a lot added by musicians.
Think about it. How can anybody easily
learn a language that uses words that look the same but are pronounced
differently, like plough, trough, tough, through, though, thorough,
enough, bough? See what I mean?
And that isn't the half of it. What about
heard/beard, road/broad, break/weak, low/how, or paid/said?
I'm not even talking about English letters
which are silent or un-pronounced: lamb, debt, calm, listen, through,
hymn, know, yacht, or the great number of sounds in English with various
spellings: bee, tea, ceiling, field, key, machine, quay, me, Phoenix,
As they say in New York, Oy Vey. Then
there's meat, head, heart, heard, theatre, and pool, foot, blood, door,
and cooperate, not to mention cake, mat, call, any, sofa. Several sets
of words may be spelled in different ways but pronounced similarly:
red/read, rite/right/write, buy/bye/by, so/sew/sow, feat/feet, and ate,
It's enough to drive a person crazy. ("Short
trip," as my mother would say.)
Maybe the latest trends in English will
help those who wish to learn- shortcuts supplied by the young as always.
My generation sliced the "usine" from limousine to give the
language "limo," and ripped "catessen" from delicatessen
for "deli." My son thinks his generation contributed the word
"cool," but he's wrong. How many of you hung out in bars listening
to cool jazz? And no one ever lived, not even Jack Nicholson, any cooler
than Cary Grant. But I digress.
To Mexicans dezyring nolej uv Uhmerikin
histry: Wun uv R fayvrit politishuns wuz Prezident Linkin. I hope U
dont think thiss spelling is ludacris.
I'm just trying to help you break your
Berlitz. In closing, I'll leave you with this:
A Mexican guy is visiting Sydney, Australia
and stops his car near a country bus stop where two locals are waiting,
and says: "Entschuldigung, koennen Sie Deutsch sprechen?"
The two Aussies just stare at him, in complete silence.
"Excusez-moi, parlez vous Francais?"
The two continue to stare, still in complete
"Hablan ustedes Espanol?"
The Mexican drives off, extremely disappointed.
The first Aussie turns to the second and says "Maybe we should
learn a foreign language."
"Why? That guy knew four languages, and it didn't do him any good."