Languages & Hard Decisions

I speak a little bit of four different languages, to varying degrees. When I was a child I was a part of a special program that no longer exists in the local public schools. I took French from 1st grade to 10th grade. I could have tested out of my foreign language requirement in undergrad, but decided instead to take German. I took German for two years because I am German-American and still have second cousins in Germany. I remember visiting my German relatives at age 10. It was an amazing trip. One that I would later (much later – 2010) take again.

It has hard to keep up with two languages. In fact, I found that by my second year of German I was losing some of my French skills. So, I should stop there, right? I should focus and practice. But, did I stop there? No. Instead of focusing on either French or German so that I could become proficient in one or both, I decided it was important to learn Spanish. After all, there are many Spanish speakers in the United States, I support the rights of immigrants, and want to work in the public service sector. So, off I went to do a semester in Spain. But, wait, did I stop there? No, no I did not. You see, I also have first cousins who are half-Saudi. So, of course I took one quarter of Arabic just to learn the basics.

So, here I sit, in my thirties, not proficient at a single foreign language, but knowing how to communicate basic ideas in Spanish, and intermediate-level ideas in German and French. I must say that all I remember of Arabic are the basic greetings and how to yell at misbehaving children. I have decided it is time. Time for what? Time to finally focus and perfect my skills at one language so that I can be a better translator, conversationalist, and resource for my employer. That’s where the hard decision comes in. It wasn’t hard to decide not to pursue Arabic. It is the language I know the least of and, if absolutely necessary, I can always call on my cousins to help me out with translating written materials. While painful, I decided to remove Spanish from the contest. Though I maintain that it is an important language to know in the United States, I know it less than either French of German. Also, where I work, we get as many French-speaking immigrants as we do Spanish-speaking.

So, the answer should be French, right? I mean, I took it for ten years and have already assisted numerous French-speaking customers at my job. But, hold the presses, because it hasn’t been that easy for me to decide. You see, I’ve had this dilemma for two years now. Choosing between French and German is difficult. In fact, it paralyzes me from taking action towards my goal. Why? How? Simply, I am German-American and a family historian. I am so German-American that I have a certificate in German-American Studies from a local university. While my base knowledge of French is greater, my personal need for German is greater. I travel the US and Germany doing research and understanding the records that I am looking at is of prime importance. Yet, every German-speaking person that has entered my place of employment has spoken almost perfect English. The only use my German skills have to my employer is in the realm of genealogy. That isn’t exactly useless, since where I work is regionally known as a great source of genealogical data. However, it is less helpful than French.

So, which do I decide? Do I perfect my German in honor of my heritage and my cousins in Germany as well as to aid my research? Or, do I perfect my French so that I can be of greater assistance to the French-speaking African immigrants that I interact with on a somewhat regular basis. I know, I know. You are going to comment and tell me to do both. Well, I simply haven’t the time for that.

I must make a decision by March. March is when German lessons begin. So, which shall it be? Which do you think it should be? I will post once I’ve made my decision.

The McNabbist

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